Juneteenth Celebration Will Reflect on Past, Look Toward Future
By Cathy DeShano | Fri, 06/13/2008 - 9:29pm
By Jessica Strong
When Juneteenth festivities kick off on June 14, organizers hope both the young and old will see the day as an opportunity to reflect on the traditions and roots of African Americans, as well as look toward the future of the community. Mona Adams-Winston, who helped launch the city’s Juneteenth celebrations, hopes that youth come away from the day “[learning] something about our history and that we have been important in this country.” She also emphasizes the need for youth to “realize that there is more to life than today, there is [also] the future.”
In its 19th year, the event, which starts with a parade, will feature a variety of activities for all ages. Along with numerous food and merchandise vendors, the festival will feature five main tents highlighting themes such as heritage and religion, along with a main stage showcasing musical and theatrical entertainment. There also will be activity tents for children and teenagers.
While the music, food and entertainment are essential for a celebration, Adams-Winston and Weatherby-Flowers also make sure that through spoken word, music and dance, people learn about the meaning behind Juneteenth.
Juneteenth marks the momentous event in 1865 when the country’s last slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned that the war had ended, resulting in freedom for all slaves. Although Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862 to take effect on Jan. 1, 1863, Union soldiers didn’t immediately enforce the New Executive Order. After the surrender of General Lee and the establishment of a new regiment, the soldiers were finally able to share the life-changing news with the slaves.
Throughout the years, several stories have surfaced to explain the delay to enforce Lincoln’s proclamation, according to the Juneteenth.com World Wide Celebration website. One tells of the messenger being killed on his way to Texas to deliver the news. Another story is that the plantation slave masters intentionally withheld the news. “We can’t lose the vision, the celebration has to be about the history of slaves,” Weatherby-Flowers notes.
Planting the seed
The Madison Juneteenth Celebration was just a vision two decades ago. “Nineteen years ago, it was just a conversation that [we] had over lunch,” said Weatherby-Flowers. Today, both Adams-Winston and Weatherby-Flowers have watched the celebration grow to become a yearly celebration. Weatherby-Flowers feels that “the educational component, the quality of planning, and the diversity of folks” has helped in planting the seed of Juneteenth, and now that the seed has grown, “the bush now needs to be pruned.” Adams-Winston cites community members as playing pivotal roles in the success of the celebration all these years. “The community embraced it. There are many people involved which allows [the celebration] to stay in Penn park.”
Keeping the celebration in Penn Park is extremely important to both women. Village leader Milele Chikasa Anana, who serves as an advisor to the founders, and designs the Juneteenth program booklet, has also watched the Juneteenth celebration grow. She notes that the increase in the number of people who come out to celebrate are, in turn, creating a better understanding of Juneteenth for themselves.
This year, the MG &E Solar Trailer is having its “coming out at the celebration,” Adams-Winston reveals. In doing so, she says that people will be introduced to a new way of using energy. Also, according to Chikasa Anana, “this year more than ever, people have volunteered their time and energy in order to give [participants] a variety of experiences.” She says of this year’s activities, “we are involving young people a lot more through [music]. There is also an emphasis on health this year, and the church tent has great appeal.”
Though the event is held “rain or shine,” all three women are hoping that the weather cooperates for the entire celebration. They are also building their hopes on the experiences of those who attend the celebration. Adams-Winston sees this occasion as more important than the 4th of July, citing that this celebration represents not only freedom from slavery, but also freedom from issues that have constantly plagued “our community, such as health disparity and affordable housing.”
A Juneteenth celebration will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Penn Park, 2101 Fisher St., Madison.
People also are invited to celebrate the Madison Juneteenth’s Golden Anniversary from 5 p.m. to midnight on Thursday, June 19, at “R” Place on Park, 1821 S. Park St. from 5 p.m. to midnight. This event is a fundraiser for Kujichagulia—Madison Center for Self Determination. Refreshments will be served. There is $5 cover charge, or you can become a Juneteenth Partner with a $19 donation to Kujichagulia. Please contact Mona Adams-Winston 239-7707, Annie Weatherby-Flowers 358-2872 or Rhonda Johnson 206-5485 with questions.
Jessica Strong is assistant editor for Madison Commons and a student in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
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