Sixteen years ago, local resident Lionel Smiles decided it was time for Neosho to have an Emancipation Day Celebration.

Sixteen years ago, local resident Lionel Smiles decided it was time for Neosho to have an Emancipation Day Celebration.  
"We'd always gone to the one in Joplin," he said. "But as my mom grew older, she didn't want to go (to Joplin) so we decided to have one here."
Smiles said the first event came together in just three days.
"We had help," he said. "The Neosho Daily News helped a lot and so did the Neosho City Council."
This year's Emancipation Day event will be this Saturday, August 5, starting around 10 a.m. at Scenic Park in north Neosho.  
Free food and beverages will be available for everyone and Smiles plans to get the barbecue grill going early.
"One of the staples that we always have is strawberry soda," he said.
Other events will include bingo games, a dunk tank, and a fire truck for kids to explore from the Neosho Fire Department.  Representatives from both the Neosho National Fish Hatchery and the George Washington Carver National Monument will also be on hand.
A favorite, especially for the kids, will be the arrival between 5 and 6 p.m. of the Midwest Aero Care helicopter from Freeman Healthy Systems. The helicopter, a fully-equipped air ambulance, will land at Scenic Park.  Visitors will have the opportunity to view the inside of the craft and to ask the flight crew questions.
Emancipation Day, also known as Freedom Day, celebrates freedom and the equal rights of all cultures.  The observance also celebrates African-American freedom and achievements while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.
The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, became official on January 1, 1863 but all remaining slaves, including those in Texas ,were not freed until June 19, 1865.
In most states, Emancipation Day is observed on or around the day that each individual state gained emancipation from the federal government and when word of emancipation reached slaves in those areas.  In Southwest Missouri, Emancipation Day has long been observed in early August.  That may be when slaves in the area first learned that they had freedom.
Around 1900, there were some Emancipation Day celebrations held in Neosho, at Island Park, but at some point the custom ended until Smiles revived it sixteen years ago.  Now the observance has become a local tradition, open to all.
"We call it a homecoming," Smiles said. "It's when the old and young come together and unite."
Smiles remains the primary organizer.
"I plan to cook all day," he said.  Everyone is invited to attend but they should bring lawn chairs along.
For further details or additional information about the Neosho Emancipation Day celebration, contact Lionel Smiles at 417-451-1887 or 417-389-7193.  Look for a Facebook page about the event as well.
Emancipation Day 2017 begins at 10 a.m. at Scenic Park on North Main Avenue in Neosho.