First person: Preparing a feast

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson William “Pill” Hall was one of the first organizers of the city’s annual Juneteenth event. The event, held at Potter Park, includes free food and drinks and free swimming for children from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Potter Park Pool.

Saturday is a day of history, and a testament to upholding a promise.

William “Pill” Hall is the main organizer for Saturday’s Juneteenth, held all day at Potter Park.

The event, which draws about 3,000 to Potter Park, is held annually on the Saturday closest to June 19 — the day recognized for the abolition of slavery in Texas.

About Hall: They call me “Pill.” An uncle of mine gave it to me when I was a little boy. He said I was just like a pill, I was hard to swallow. I was a bad little one.

I grew up here in Clovis. I was born in Grace, Miss. My mother brought me out here back in 1956. I went to school, I was on the boxing team. We fought out of New Mexico, out of Clovis. I fought 17 years and I turned pro in 1972. I fought a few fights, but couldn’t train right. I had to make a choice between my family and fighting. Family had to come first.

I was an employee for Excel, a meat-packing company. I did that for 25 years. Now, I just fish. I go to Santa Rosa, Conchas, Ute, everywhere.

How the Juneteenth event started: We were all sitting around the barber shop, sitting and talking. A bunch of guys, mostly all dead and gone now. There was a Juneteenth out at Sycamore. They set up booths and stuff. They were selling plates (of food). I was talking about it. I said, “How could you all do that? You’re selling plates of food, trying to make a dollar off your ancestors being in chains.” We started talking about it. Aaron Young said, “Well, why don’t we start it? We’ll get behind you if you say you’ll do it.” I said, “Let me tell you something. I don’t start nothing I can’t finish.”

I started on First Street. The first three I had were on First Street. They got so big, I had to move it to Upsilon. It’s been going good. A lot of people come from different towns — Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Las Cruces. We have some good times, a lot of food. We just sit out. The elders like it better because they can talk about old times, back when First Street just started out. This year will be 17 years.

I am very surprised. I figured it wouldn’t get this big.

The process: I’ve already started collecting stuff. We’ll put everything together. We’ll get out to Potter Park at 4 a.m., start setting up the pit.

We have barbecued ribs, we have barbecued chicken, we have deep-fried catfish, we have barbecued hot links, peach cobblers and all kinds of beans and potato salad. All of it’s my favorite. But I don’t hardly get to eat because I’ll mostly be moving around.

We used to have raffles, cars and TVs and stuff. It got too big. Once it got down to brass tacks, I’d have to do just about everything myself. But I do have some friends who come from Las Cruces, Texas, different places to help me cook. I’ve got a friend, Robert Farley, who used to live here. He brings his pit up every year. Most of the guys I deal with, I grew up with them.

My boys come out and help me a lot. They’re grown, but they still come out. Anthony, he’ll do the fish tent. My baby boy (Doug McAdams), he helps barbecue.

— Compiled by CNJ staff writer Kevin Wilson