Celebrating emancipation

“Juneteenth is a date set aside to recognize the freeing of the last group of slaves that were held in Galveston, Texas in 1865,” says Emma Andrews, Case Manager at The Wesley Center. She was kind enough to take time out of her day to tell me why this date and its celebration holds such […]

Annual Juneteenth Festival returns to Dayton’s McIntosh Park

A special part of any celebration is always tasty treats freshly prepared.

By Sarah Monroe

“Juneteenth is a date set aside to recognize the freeing of the last group of slaves that were held in Galveston, Texas in 1865,” says Emma Andrews, Case Manager at The Wesley Center. She was kind enough to take time out of her day to tell me why this date and its celebration holds such significance in the African American Community. The event is possible because of The Wesley Center, which helps strengthen families with its resources such as child care and education. To date, they have helped over 100,000 families in the Dayton area. The Juneteenth celebration will be held on June 16 at McIntosh Park starting at 8:00 a.m. The day will be full of activities to draw attention to the celebration and to bring the community closer.

The Emancipation Proclamation is an executive order set forth by President Abraham Lincoln which freed all slaves on January 1, 1863. It wasn’t for another two-and-a-half years that the last of the slaves were released from bondage, falling on June 19, 1865. In research as to why it took so long for them to be released, there are contradicting theories. One article suggested that they were kept to tend and harvest one more crop of cotton, but Emma says “some of the information leads us to believe that during the Civil War, which was going on at that time, that some of the slave owners moved to Texas so that they would not have to recognize the executive order.” Texas seceded from the United States in 1861 and joined the Confederate cause. Because of that, Texas created their own law and continued the practice of slave trading and ownership.

The first Juneteenth celebration took place one year after their release, on June 19, 1866, in Galveston. It was meant to be a day of uplift, of rejoicing in the progress of one another’s lives since their day of freedom. Prominent black citizens spoke at the gatherings for many years, as a motivation to what was possible in life. The celebration itself continued for decades, but had started to fade as World War II set in. Although the celebration continued in Texas, throughout the country attention for the date had begun to wane as the stress and turmoil of the civil rights movement took place all across the nation. It was ultimately the civil rights movement that breathed new life into Juneteenth, but only after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. According to records, Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, and his best friend, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, had plans to continue the march that Dr. King started to co-ordinate, one that would have brought him back to the steps of Washington where he gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The march itself was not falling into place the way the pair expected, but they soon realized that the centennial of Juneteenth was approaching, so they decided that bringing the celebration back would be their new mission, and it has been celebrated ever since.

Dayton, according to records, has celebrated Juneteenth since 1996 and it has been planned by The Wesley Center since the early 2000’s. The celebration has grown exponentially since its inception in the Dayton area. “We used to have it here at the center,” Emma says. “It grew to the point where we had to move it to McIntosh Park.” The advent of social media and “What To Do” websites has helped tremendously with the uptick in community members being aware of the celebration, along with the festivities itself. “I remember in the earlier stages, even African- Americans didn’t understand what Juneteenth really meant,” Emma explains. “So with the broadening of that knowledge going out into the community and then coming in, more and more people are beginning to see why we are celebrating.”

Juneteenth kicks off with The Red Velvet Cupcake 5K Run at 8:00 a.m., but if you are participating you need to be there by 7:30 a.m. The run is followed by a Little League baseball game, Dayton Action Children’s Business Fair, the “Journey To Juneteenth” Historical Exhibit, Farmers Market and Veggie-cation Workshops. Ending the day will be the Dayton Artists Showcase, featuring local band Top Secret. There will also be food available all day from Ms. Sweetie’s Café, named in honor of a longtime senior volunteer at The Wesley Center, and volunteer Grandmother, Ms. Sweetie. All proceeds from the café will go towards the funding of the senior volunteer program offered at the center.

“We have a lot of kids that participate because they are coming to the park and they take it as a joyous fun day,” Emma tells me. “But we want our participants to have a background of knowledge as to why the celebration is occurring.”

All are welcomed and encouraged to join in a community effort that is needed in this turbulent time.

Juneteenth will be held Saturday, June 16 at 8:00 a.m. The celebration will be at McIntosh Park located at 882 W. Riverview Ave. Additional information can be found at wesleycenterdayton.org/event/juneteenth-festival-2/

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Sarah Monroe, a native to the Gem City, is currently writing her first novel. Reach DCP writer Sarah Monroe at contactus@daytoncitypaper.com

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