Why We Celebrate Juneteenth

By Donna Reynolds, Defender Guest Writer

Every year on June 19, African Americans in many parts of the United States celebrate their heritage and freedom by remembering the sacrifices of those who came before.  This celebration, known as Juneteenth, has its roots in Galveston, Texas, where, on June 19, 1865, the Union troops, led by Major General Gordon Granger, first landed.  Up until this point, the people of Galveston had no knowledge of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had become law two and half years earlier on January 1, 1863.  There was little Union presence in the area, and with no means of effective communication, it had been relatively easy to prevent this news from becoming public knowledge.

Shortly after arriving in Galveston, the Major General issued General Order Number 3, a proclamation that formally notified the people of Texas that all slaves were free.  This decree further stated that “the connection heretofore existing between them (former slaves and masters) becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

For the newly freed slaves, this news of emancipation was met with a variety of reactions, ranging from astonishment to utter jubilation.  For many of them, freedom meant leaving the plantations, even when they had no place to go.  Some left to join family members in neighboring states, while others saw the North as a true representation of freedom.  But freedom came at a cost, and many former slaves became disillusioned as they struggled to find work and acceptance.

Faced with the harsh reality of their newfound freedom, former slaves found solace in remembering that day in June, and began to celebrate as a way to honor family and the struggles that their ancestors had to endure. The name Juneteenth was adopted, and the day became a time to pray and draw strength from family members who had been part of this remarkable experience.

These celebrations died off during the early 1900s, and it wasn’t until the beginning of the civil rights movement in the late 1950s that students engaged in the struggle for equality once again began to relate to the struggles of their ancestors.  In 1968, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy called for a gathering of people from all races in Washington, D.C.  Thousands arrived at the Poor People’s March and raised their voices in support of oppressed people.  Many of these people were so inspired by the experience that on their return home, they began organizing Juneteenth celebrations in their communities. 

On January 1, 1980, due to the efforts of an African-American State legislator, Al Edwards, the state of Texas made Juneteenth an official state holiday. Since then, the celebration has been growing in interest, as direct descendants of former slaves return to Galveston year after year in honor of those who have come before them.  Additionally, Juneteenth celebrations have spread throughout the United States, and the date is now celebrated in such diverse areas as Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Syracuse, New York, where the first Juneteenth celebration occurred in 1988.

Juneteenth Celebrations

By Lee Edwards, Defender Contributing Writer

In the days preceding the celebration of Juneteenth, the Defender identified two family friendly options for parties interested in observing a moment in American history. Following the featured activities are a list of other festivities around the area.

TheBlackMall.com

TheBlackMall.com will host its 5th Annual Juneteenth Celebration at Cultural Connection 360, 400 W. 71st,  on Saturday, June 17 from 4-9 p.m. Cassiopeia Uhuru, founder and operator of TBM, said she’s expecting 500 guests in what she is calling a family friendly event. Uhuru said one of the event’s primary sponsors is the Chicago’s Women Empowerment Group along with multiple others. She said the legacy of Juneteenth should be appreciated and to this end she said she will begin her event with a traditional Yoruba libation to set the proper tone.

“I think it’s important that people understand and learn what our people have gone through and learn their real, true history about emancipation for Black people in America,” said Uhuru.

Uhuru said the day’s festivities will include a town hall meeting where discussions over the different cultural aspects of the day will take place as well as capoeira classes, musical performances, African dance workshops, small business vendors selling products, and more. Also, the weekend will include a partnership with Real Men Cook who will provide a preview of their annual Real Men Cook Father’s Day celebration.

Uhuru said she is humbled that TBM has received so much support throughout the city. The importance of Chicago in terms of the history of the United States for African Americans makes hosting Juneteenth events all the more important, according to Uhuru.

“Chicago is an extremely vital component to Black progress, period,” said Uhuru. “People look toward Chicago when it comes to empowerment on so many fronts culturally, spirituality; we have so many different institutions that are living inside of Chicago that are powerful.”

Cultural Collision Open Mic Expo

The National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum is hosting its third annual Juneteenth at the museum, 10406 S. Maryland Ave., from 11 a.m. -5 p.m. celebration with a twist.

This year will feature an open mic element hosted by WGN radio anchor Dometi Pongo in what is being called a “Cultural Collision Open Mic Expo”. Open mic participants will be given the opportunity to perform poetry, spoken word, and music.

David Peterson, Jr., president and executive director of the museum, said over the years the event has grown from a community recommitment ceremony where awards were given to the Tuskegee Airmen and the Buffalo Soldiers to what it is today. He said this year’s event is a “call to action.”

“We’re going to make sure that we put out the right energy so we have a safe summer out here,” said Peterson.

Peterson said this year’s event will also pay homage to the late Ronald “Kwesi” Harris who was an integral part of the program over recent years. Harris performed the libation ceremony and provided wisdom for event organizers. Peterson said Harris died on the day before the museum recognized Juneteenth last year. He called it an emotional time for everyone.

“Kwesi helped put it together all around so this is basically an opportunity for us to keep his legacy alive by honoring him here,” said Peterson.

Peterson said following last year’s ceremony, he was not intending on hosting another celebration this year but then fate intervened.

“I didn’t have the support that I needed and then out of nowhere here comes this spiritual connection with Dometi,” said Peterson. “He winds up and comes to the museum and was like ‘let’s do this’.”

In addition to the open mic portion, there will be festival-like events where individuals are invited to learn more about their culture, according to Peterson.

Other Juneteenth Activities

Wreath Laying Ceremony

WHEN: June 17 7 a.m.

WHERE: 3100 South Lake Shore Drive

At site of 1919 Chicago Race Riot

Led by National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign Chairman Rev. Ronald V. Myers

Other activities to follow: Flag raising ceremony, parade, Women’s Film Festival and Jazz Concert

WHERE:  St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church, 2901 W. Monroe St.

We Are ONE Southeast Chicago (10th Ward)

WHEN: Saturday, June 17, 2017 from 10 a.m.  to 6 p.m.

WHERE: Brandon Street – between 91st and 92nd Street

ACTIVITIES: A FREE, family-oriented street festival with music, dancing and artistic folkloric performances (from the parade). This event includes a fun interactive children’s area, bingo, senior services, raffles, prizes and more!

ACTIVITIES: The educational interactive program will feature a skit by children, an arts and craft make-n-take, songs and special balloon hats given to all who attend. For more information: http://www.bronzevillechildrensmuseum.com/ or call 773-721-9301

JUNETEENTH: Freedom Heritage & Unity Celebration

Presented by African American Men of Unity

WHEN: Saturday, June 17, 3:30 to 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. Park, N. Farnsworth Avenue & Grand Boulevard, Aurora

COST: Free admission, food, and beverages.

ACTIVITIES: Entertainment, singing, dancing, spoken word, moon jumps, basketball tournament, games, motivational speakers and fun for the whole family. Last year we had a diverse crowd consisting of kids, teenagers, elders, clergy, and city officials toppling 1,000 plus people over the course of the evening. For more information, call Ricky Rodgers at 630-606-1910. http://www.aamou.org/

2017 Millennium Park Summer Music Series: Juneteenth Celebration

WHEN: Monday, June 19, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Millennium Park

COST: Free

ACTIVITIES: Concert features the singer and songwriter Gregory Porter (Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2014 for “Liquid Spirit” and in 2017 for “Take Me to the Alley”)  and well-known Chicago-based cellist, composer and educator Tomeka Reid.

Sounding Bronzeville

WHEN: Sunday, June 18, 1-4 p.m.

WHERE: 39th at Lake Shore Drive at the Burnham Wildlife Corridor

COST: Free

ACTIVITIES: “JUNETEENTH” at Sounding Bronzeville and Sankofa for the Earth collaboration celebration on African and Black-American Folklore. chicagoparkdistrict.com 

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