Sunny skies, delicious food and fun fellowship all made for a great day as the Sabine Educational Society celebrated the return of its annual Juneteenth celebration at historic Sabine Farms on Saturday.

“It’s a good feeling that you can get back to what you grew up with,” said Wilma Gross Surry, a member of the planning committee.

“Due to the pandemic, that gave us a time to really miss or focus on what we used to do to remember and the fact that we can actually get back together again, in a safer environment and safe way,” she said. “So, it has been truly exciting trying to get it together when you really realize that you’re going to do it.”

She said being able to add a new component to the event was also exciting as NFL legend and DeBerry native John Booty joined them to conduct a sports clinic for area youth prior to the kickoff of the annual picnic.

“Back in the day, we did have softball games and baseball games on this particular day; so this year for the first time we had the little football clinic,” said Surry. “It was good to see that they are kids and they’re still interested.”

Surry said the day was not only a day to remember for the ones that have celebrated the event annually, but it was also a chance for newcomers to make memories.

“For those who hadn’t been before, it’s a good beginning and then for those of us who had been doing it, it was good to return,” she said.

Thomas Walton, who moved from Alaska a few years ago back to his childhood community in DeBerry, said it was great to be on the historic grounds where he grew up. Walton spent the day grilling up hotdogs and giving the youth in his family a tour of his humble beginnings.

“This is my little cousin; this is my little nephew,” he said, introducing the youth in his family. “We’re having a good time out here. They’re exploring these old buildings.

“They’re still safe. They built them sturdy,” he observed.

Walton said the old community center building that’s still standing is probably about 100 years old. He recalled his family bringing their homegrown produce to the site to sell.

“We used to sell cucumbers, tomatoes, peas and okra,” he said.. “We raised all that.

“This was the community center. There was a social club,” he said, gazing at what is now just the chimney remaining from the social club. “That was like a dance hall. We would come out here every weekend there was a social. That’s where they danced at.”

The annual picnic-styled affair was hosted from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. While admission was free, donations are always welcomed to help with the upkeep of the site, which is managed and preserved by the educational society and once served as the cornerstone of activity for the African-American community in Harrison County and the surrounding area.

According to the Historical Endangered Site marker at the location, the site was one of several experimental farming communities administered by the Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration) to aid people displaced by the upheaval of the Great Depression. Through the effort, 141 farm communities were created; 13 of them, including Sabine Farms, served African-American sharecroppers.

The grounds boasted a cooperative store, a 400-seat auditorium, a home economics building, a dining hall and dormitory, combination office building, water tower and cucumber stand. All the homes had electricity, water and sanitation as an effort to improve the condition of poverty in rural Harrison County.

During the society’s annual Juneteenth celebration, attendees enjoy reminiscing about the times when the place was bustling with activity. It served as the hub of the community, including the host of many Juneteenth activities.

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County/Courts Reporter

Robin Y. Richardson is an award winning print journalist, serving as the county government and courts reporter. She earned her journalism degree from TSU and master's from LSUS. She is the proud mother of one daughter.