City of Fort Worth Employee Choir member Terrence Hamilton performs a solo song on June 16. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Joy rang through Fort Worth City Hall on June 16.

“First of all, Juneteenth we were set free, so that swing low and all of that is over. It’s time to be joyous,” the former City of Fort Worth Employee Choir director Terri Swift-Gadsden said. “The songs that we sing today: It’s joy.”

Swift-Gadsden, 64, and her choir’s vocals shook the City of Fort Worth’s Juneteenth Celebration at City Hall, 200 Texas St., as they sang gospel song “Ride on King Jesus.”

Dancers from the Tarrant County College Northwest Campus Mosaic Dance Project, the South Campus Continuum Dance Company and the Southeast Campus Fusion Dance Company performed alongside the City of Fort Worth Employee Choir as part of the Juneteenth celebration.

June 19, 1865, referred to as Juneteenth, is the day remembering and celebrating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. 

The day was declared a national holiday by President Joseph Biden in 2021. This year is the first year the city can celebrate Juneteenth as a nationally recognized holiday.

The City of Fort Worth Employee Choir performs on June 16 at Fort Worth City Hall, 200 Texas St. The choir has performed at Juneteenth and Martin Luther King jr. celebrations across the city since the early 1990s. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Fort Worth Diversity and Inclusion Employee Committee member Cannon Henry remembers celebrating Juneteenth growing up.

“I’m very passionate about Juneteenth,” Henry said. “As a young kid, I grew up in a small country town where Juneteenth was a celebration.”

The Manager of Genealogy and Local History and Archives, Linda Barrett, tracked the City of Fort Worth’s Juneteenth celebrations to 1878. 

“It looks like up until 1878 there was no formal organized celebration. People may have been celebrating with their families, but no organized celebrations,” Barrett said.

One of the earliest Juneteenth celebrations took place in 1882 at Widmer’s Grove, which was near what is now Pioneers Rest Cemetery, 620 Samuels Ave., Barrett said, who researched news articles from the 1880s.

Then, in 1897, Fort Worth residents celebrated with greased pig races and anvil salute, a type of salute where someone placed gunpowder on an anvil and dropped another anvil on it to make a loud ringing sound, Barrett said.

Multiple celebrations will be held from June 17 to June 19 in Fort Worth. Check the Report’s Juneteenth event guide here.

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Cristian ArguetaSotoCommunity Engagement Journalist

Cristian is a May 2021 graduate of Texas Christian University. At TCU, ArguetaSoto served as staff photographer at TCU360 and later as its visual editor, overseeing other photojournalists. A Fort Worth...