Ethan Terry, 11, carries a banner at City Hall in McAllen during the proclamation celebration of Juneteenth on Friday in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez |

McALLEN — Mayor Jim Darling made a video announcement during the city’s Juneteenth observation on Friday that it will commit funds to renovate the historic Bethel Gardens.

Following Darling’s Juneteenth proclamation delivered during a live-stream, a city of McAllen video was shown making the announcement to a standing ovation from participants.

According to Darling, $9,000 from the mayor’s State of the City fund will go toward the endeavor.

The news culminated the city’s Juneteenth event, which observed the holiday with a caravan that traveled through the city, at one point stopping at the Bethel Garden — the original site of McAllen’s first black church, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church — for a brief service.

A long line of over 30 vehicles stretched down South 21st Street in McAllen with nearly every street corner occupied by a volunteer — some assisted the caravan participants while others passed out flags celebrating Juneteenth — as it reached the church near the corner of 21st Street and Fresno Avenue.

The queue began at the corner of the Faith Fellowship Church, where Pastor Michael Smith, shielded from the morning’s relentless Texas sun by a canopy, assembled for other volunteers who were registering the participants.

Despite the humid weather, spirits were high and the caravan’s participants were excited to hit the road on the 2.5-mile trek, which symbolized the two-and-a-half years it took for Texas to learn of the end of slavery.

Hector Vargas along with Pastor Nicholas Maddox celebrate Juneteenth at the Bethel Baptist Church during a car caravan on Friday in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez |

Specifically, Juneteenth commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, that news of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation reached the state.

The caravan’s final destination was city hall, where Darling delivered the proclamation prior to the video announcement — all available for live-stream.

Social distancing restrictions due to the pandemic were present throughout the entirety of the event.

Speakers included Smith and Dr. Theresa Gatling, president of Village in the Valley. A group known as State Protest RGV — consisting of Krystal Ramon, Carolina Garza and Analisa Martinez — attended to promote their own Protest for Justice event at Bannworth Park on Monday, citing the Valley’s own racism issues as a point of protest.

“We just want people there to inform them,” Garza said. “Because there’s a lot that goes on in the city and some people don’t want to face it … even our parents don’t want to talk about it.”

The sense of unity was rich during the entirety of the event.

As a black American pastor, Smith said he wanted to acknowledge how it “does my heart good to see what we’re doing as a community.”

Hector Vargas helps carry a painting of a mural on canvas during the celebration of Juneteenth at City Hall on Friday in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez |

Smith added, “I think the city of McAllen is now beginning to join in and doing a wonderful job and I’m just proud of it.”

Gatling, who organized the Juneteenth celebrations, was overwhelmed by the turnout for the caravan.

“We weren’t sure how many people would come and people kept asking how many cars and we were like, ‘I don’t know, we only have like five people,’” Gatling said. “And I think, really, it was the help of the media, which was newspapers, radio and television that really got the word out to people and I’m amazed with how it all came together. … This really exemplifies how unity works, all of us coming together.”

Pastor Michael Smith of Faith Fellowship adjusts a video before the start of the festivities celebrating Juneteenth on Friday in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez |