Bands played, motorcycle engines roared and political candidates waved and smiled during Waco’s Juneteenth parade along Elm Avenue on Saturday morning, the festivities prompting some to reflect on East Waco’s African-American heritage and how it will relate to new development.
A crowd arrived early to stake out prime spots along the parade route that stretched from near the Doris Miller Family YMCA to Indian Spring Park along Lake Brazos. A stone’s throw from the finish line, heavy equipment that has been clearing land for new hotels stood at the ready.
“It’s a great turnout. I’m excited to see different cultures present to learn more about African-American history,” said Rochonda Farmer-Neal, director of governmental relations at Baylor University.
Her husband, Johnny Neal, owns the Trinity Star Insurance agency on Elm Avenue.
Farmer-Neal said that, regardless of changes the thoroughfare may experience, she hopes Elm Avenue never loses its charm and cultural significance.
“This side of the community has remained untouched for years. We wanted to see the true East Waco before it changes,” said Paula Solano, 33, outreach coordinator for the Family Health Center.
She attended the parade with Maria Solano, 34, and five youngsters witnessing their first Juneteenth event.
“I grew up in South Waco, which has its own culture to celebrate,” Paula Solano said. “We’re happy to be here representing the community.”
This is the 10th straight year the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce has sponsored Waco’s Juneteenth parade, held to celebrate the day the end of slavery took hold in Texas: June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation officially ending slavery.
Earlier in the week, the downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone board signed off on making the 700 block of Elm Avenue a “model block” as a centerpiece of East Waco development that includes a dance studio, restaurant and infrastructure upgrades. More than $645,000 was set aside for the north side of the Elm Avenue block, which will go to new sidewalks, streetlamps, sewer and water lines, parking and a concrete alley. City money will cover the balance of the $789,000 project, according to city officials.
The board also recommended about $236,000 for the Doris Miller Memorial taking shape between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the river.
The “model block” comes ahead of a $3.8 million Elm Avenue “streetscape” project supported by the Texas Department of Transportation and TIF Zone.
Elsewhere, a hotel development group, KB Hotels, whose resume includes the upscale Indigo Hotel in Waco, bought a 9.6-acre tract bounded by Bridge and Taylor streets and South Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, which promotes downtown development, told the Tribune-Herald two hotels are planned for the site, though KB representatives have not yet confirmed that.
Tammy Woods, 42, of Waco, who attends Waco’s Juneteenth parade each year, said she is excited about what Elm Avenue could become.
“What I’m hearing is good,” Woods said, holding her 6-month-old daughter, La’Riyah. “I hope it contributes to a better environment for our young people, just like this parade today, which is great. I love this parade.”
Carlea Bible, 54, of Waco, said she has been attending the parade for years.
“I can remember big crowds, when both sides of Elm Street were full. I just wish more people would come out, though I think we have more today than we did last year,” said Bible, who is African-American. “I’m excited about the different races attending. It used to be just us.”
Bible said she has discussed the significance of June 19 with her grandchildren and believes they have been receptive to her message.
The Waco High School Jazz Katz, representatives of the Waco fire and police departments, McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, and the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce rode in the parade.
Others included a vehicle-sized shopping cart courtesy of H-E-B and several gleaming, customized cars and pickups, a handful provided by local dealerships.
Bringing up the rear were horses ridden by the Lone Riderz, Boots in the Saddle Riding Club, Stagger Posse and the Knight Riders.