CINCINNATI — Lydia Morgan knows the story of Juneteenth isn’t easy to tell. But it’s one of the main reasons she thinks it’s so important to talk about it.
What do you want to know
- The 35th annual Juneteenth festival in Cincinnati will take place this weekend at Eden Park
- Juneteenth recognizes the freeing of slaves in Texas more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation
- While Juneteenth is a day of celebration, it is also a day of reflection on the struggles African Americans had to face during slavery and since gaining their freedom.
- Last year Juneteenth became a federal holiday
Juneteenth, short for “June 19”, marks the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas with the news that the Civil War was over and the slaves were now free.
This happened more than two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
While Juneteenth may have only become a federal holiday last year, African American and Black communities have been commemorating “Emancipation Day” for more than a century.
A retired educator, Lydia Morgan helped found Juneteenth Cincinnati Inc., which operates the city’s oldest Juneteenth celebration. Now in its 35th year, the event returns to Eden Park this weekend for celebration, music, bonding and, yes, storytelling.
“The biggest thing I want (people) to understand, especially little ones and teenagers, is that these slaves suffered a lot, but they persevered,” Morgan said. “If they hadn’t persevered, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Over the years the event has grown from a relatively small festival at Daniel Drake Park on Red Bank Road to a multi-day event at Eden Park near the town centre.
On Saturdays, there were two stages of music, food, children’s activities, and art from noon to 9 p.m. A Father’s Day concert will take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
The the festivities are taking place across the city Monday will be a parade by the city center from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dozens of drill crews, stage crews and local dignitaries will head east on West Court Street and right on Plum Street before heading to Richmond Street.
Morgan feels conflicted about how to recognize Juneteenth. People should celebrate the end of slavery as a public holiday, she said, but stressed the importance of thinking about what the day actually means. Not only the liberation of a people, but also the struggles these people faced during and after slavery as well as the ongoing struggles for many of their ancestors in the black community.
Saturday events will include history lessons and pageants. The Voice of Freedom Project aims to showcase the myriad of emotions surrounding Juneteenth.
Presented in conjunction with the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, the program includes visual arts, spoken word, dance, and music to showcase the emotions the newly liberated people likely felt.
Artwork will be displayed throughout the festival site and spoken word performances will take place on the Mirror Lake stage.
“A lot of people died because of slavery, but it’s important to remember everyone who fought to survive,” Morgan said. “It took a lot of inner strength to go through something like this, but it also took strength to move on.”
“There are people who grew up feeling embarrassed by slavery, but we don’t have anything to be embarrassed about. We should be proud of the strength of our ancestors,” she added. “It’s very important to remember and very important to share with our children.”
The Eden Park events aren’t the only June 19 celebrations taking place in Southwest Ohio this weekend.
Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati raised a June 19 flag on their respective government buildings, the Hamilton County Courthouse and City Hall. It is a tradition that has been going on for several years.
In 2020, Hamilton County Commissioners voted to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for all county workers. This happened a year before the federal government made it a statutory holiday.
Earlier this week, the Cincinnati City Council followed suit and voted to make it a Cincinnati vacation as well.
“Juneteenth honors one of the most significant moments in American history, and its official recognition is long overdue for Cincinnati,” said Council Member Victoria Parks. She sees the long weekend as a way for city staff to “celebrate and educate themselves” about the greater meaning of the holiday.
The city’s flag-raising ceremony on Friday featured dancers and musical performances, as well as several speakers from organizations including the NAACP and the Greater Southwest Ohio Urban League.
Speakers included elected officials and community activists such as Iris Roley, who played a key role in forming the historic Cincinnati Collaborative Agreement.
Another speaker was Woodrow Keown, Jr., president and chief operating officer of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati.
The Freedom Center has a weekend full of free events, including an evening of spoken word and poetry from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday. Customers will receive two tickets for a free drink. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, there will be art projects, dramatic readings, a performance by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Mark Lomax Quartet and more.
For the third consecutive year, the Freedom Center participated in BLKFREEDOM.org, which brought together 11 museums from across the country to explore the US Constitution. The museums collaborated on a video called “We the People”.
The video will debut at the Freedom Center over the weekend.
“Juneteenth has been recognized as a day of affirmation that black people are, and by right should be, free,” said Keown, Jr. “It is both a day of celebration and a reminder of what millions people have endured in this country to fulfill the promises made in the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. Today, we use it as a time to rededicate ourselves to finishing the work of eradicating the systemic freedoms that remain from chattel slavery.
However, not all June 19 celebrations take place downtown. In fact, there’s a new one this year in Golf Manor, a small village in Hamilton County surrounded by Cincinnati’s Pleasant Ridge and Roselawn neighborhoods.
It’s the brainchild of 54-year-old Maxine Lewis Robinson. She mentioned the idea in a neighborhood group on social media and the idea took off.
With virtually no money and little time, a group of strangers-turned-cousins coordinated what is now the June 16 inaugural celebration at Golf Manor, said Melody N. Mayle, one of the project’s partners. .
The community’s inaugural June 16 celebration was held Friday from 4-9 p.m. at Volunteer Park (6441 Wiehe Rd). Plans included food, drinks to buy, music and activities for the kids. Representatives from several health organizations were on hand to discuss topics such as sexual and mental health.
Small local businesses will also be there selling things like t-shirts and jewelry, and others will be there promoting their services, from massage therapy to wealth management.
The goal, Mayle said, is to connect our local community, promote our goods and services, and let our neighbors know about the various organizations here to serve them.
“We want to celebrate freedom while empowering people and improving the black economy,” she added. “The event will celebrate the beauty of being black and recognize the unique challenges faced by black people in America.”