Wilmar June Dinner: A Juneteenth Celebration

10 Jun 2024 in

Wilmar June Dinner: A Juneteenth Celebration

By Guest Blogger Janie Lee

The small town of Wilmar, located in southeast Arkansas, holds one of the longest-running Juneteenth celebrations in Arkansas history and has been celebrated since the late 1800s. Arkansas PBS captured the history and relationships that draw people back to Wilmar year after year in a new documentary short, “Wilmar June Dinner,” produced as part of the Arkansas PBS series "Celebrating Arkansas."

The documentary short will be screened at several events in June and can also be watched online at myarpbs.org/celebratingarkansas.  


In 2023 interviews with the mayor, residents and people with personal ties to Wilmar, Arkansas PBS discovered how Juneteenth not only holds cultural significance to this town, but also personal significance.

"Chicago, I’m a visitor. Wilmar, I’m home,” Wilmar native Beverly Railey said.  

The history of Wilmar’s June Dinner has been passed down, mostly through oral accounts. Mayor Toni Perry’s grandfather’s grandfather brought June Dinner back to Wilmar after he had been a slave in Galveston, Texas, for four years. He then passed this tradition down to his family, who have since passed it down for generations.  

Initially, locals brought any dish they could make and sat down together to share a meal. They celebrated their togetherness, and more importantly they celebrated freedom at last. Now, each June, the town comes together, not as individuals living in the same place, but as an entire family.  

Arton Ragland Sr. pictured holding a young family member.  

“From the original June Dinner to now the celebration has always been held at the same spot – the Wilmar Colored School.” Mayor Perry said. "We can't move it from there because it’s too close to everyone’s heart.” This event was started and held true with traditions that run deep through the town and its families.    

Wilmar, Arkansas Colored School in the mid 1950s.  

Wilmar, Arkansas Colored School grounds and location of Wilmar June dinner today.


An expanded version of the documentary short “Wilmar June Dinner” will be screened at several Juneteenth events around central Arkansas in partnership with Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Da Rock and the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS). The documentary short will also be screened at the 2024 June Dinner in Wilmar, Arkansas.  

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center | Juneteenth in Da Rock
Saturday, June 15 – “Wilmar June Dinner” screening, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center - Little Rock The program runs from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.  

CALS | Juneteenth

Monday, June 10 at 6:30 p.m. – "Wilmar June Dinner" screening, CALS branch library - Dee Brown Library (Baseline, Little Rock)  

Thursday, June 13 at 6:30 p.m. – "Wilmar June Dinner" screening, CALS branch library - Rooker Library (Otter Creek, Little Rock)  

Monday, June 17 at 6:30 p.m. – "Wilmar June Dinner" screening, CALS branch library - McMath Library (John Barrow, Little Rock)  

Tuesday, June 18 at 9:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (2 screenings) – "Wilmar June Dinner" screening, CALS branch library - Brooks Library (Wrightsville)  

Wilmar June Dinner | Juneteenth
Sunday, June 16 – 2024 Wilmar June Dinner  

Find more information about these and other Arkansas PBS events at myarpbs.org/events.

To learn more about the history of Juneteenth, find recipes tied to this specific holiday and watch related content, check out this PBS article.