What started out as a church social of about 1,500 people has blossomed into the largest family-oriented African American celebration in Dane County, with official estimates of over 15,000 attendees yearly. The 24th annual Juneteenth Celebration, put on by the Kujichagulia-Madison Center for Self Determination Inc., is all set for June 15 at Penn Park.
“We started in June of 1990 and we've been having the celebration ever since,” says long-time Juneteenth organizer Annie Weatherby-Flowers. “It has grown tremendously. It's really expanded. The first one we had maybe 500 to 1,000 people that came. We did everything in the [Penn Park] shelter — all of our performances and information booths — until we started to expand and grow.”
From the beginning, Juneteenth Day has been a wholesome, drug- and alcohol-free event that children and families could enjoy, with the mission of uniting Madison's black community in a positive way. The Juneteenth Celebration went indoors for a few years at the Monona Terrace and the Alliant Energy Center but people really felt like it took away from the event when it was not outside. “We were averaging about 8,000 people at the event but when we went inside we fell down to about 2-3,000 people,” Weatherby-Flowers remembers. “The first year we went back outside, we were at 10,000 folks.”
Juneteenth commemorates the freeing of the last African American slaves on June 19, 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, but the message of freedom was not enforced in Texas until Maj. Gen. George Granger landed in Galveston, Texas, with soldiers to ensure the freedom of the last 250,000 slaves. A special Independence Day celebrated by African Americans, it is centered on family gatherings with special food, storytelling, sports, and games.
“I really want people to understand that Juneteenth is about the celebration of emancipation for all black folks who were enslaved in this country,” Weatherby-Flower says. “Historically and today, we are separated economically, geographically, and socially but Juneteenth offers us a great opportunity to come together to celebrate our shared history. We try to promote the best of what our community is about and our mass contribution to this country, American history, and pop culture.”
At Juneteenth 2013, there will be a Community Showcase held in the Harriet Tubman Mainstage Tent that will feature renowned bassist Richard Davis, Jan Wheaton, Clyde Stubblefield, Charlie Brooks, and Rick Flowers and the Juneteenth Band, along with community performers and spoken-word artists and a special performance by actor and comedian Dannon Green.
“We will have some hip-hop with some local folks like Rob Dz and other community folks who will do clean, family-oriented, spoken-word and rap pieces that really talk about historical characters and struggles,” Weatherby-Flowers says.
The Penn Park shelter will be home to the Don Cornelius Old Skool venue with the black community’s tradition of checkers, barbershop networking, and rhythm and blues featuring Lawrence Adams a.k.a. “DJ Hat.” “DJ Hat did a great job last year and we're looking forward to having him back again in our Old Skool area,” Weatherby-Flowers says. “We're going to focus on Motown and old school. When you think about Soul Train and old school, you think about Don Cornelius.”
Teen activities will be incorporated into the overall entertainment throughout the event. Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) will be coordinating the children’s activities along with the Women in Focus Inc in the Marian Wright Edelman Children’s Tent.
“The Percy Julian Health Tent will have Aaron Perry's Soulful Stroll and local health providers who will focus on diabetes,” Weatherby-Flowers says. “Lisa [Peyton-Caire] and the Black Women's Wellness group will be there. There will be folks talking about diabetes and heart disease prevention and HIV prevention.”
The Heritage Tent will highlight the Africa Diaspora through jazz. Hannah Jon Taylor and José and Masala will be performing and lecturing on jazz and its connection to their shared heritage. Erika Roche will be displaying garments that connect us to heritage and food samples that also will depict that connection.
The Thomas Dorsey Gospel Tent, under the leadership of Pastor Rayford and the African American Council of Churches, has planned a great spiritual experience for the attendees. Stephen Blue and the Neighborhood Intervention Program staff will running a full basketball tournament and clinics throughout the day during the celebration. The UW-Madison student athletes will be participating in various activities.
The 15th Annual Parade will kick things off and feature historical scenes using character actors in the parade. Young people representing the neighborhood centers throughout Dane County will create banners and routines. The parade will kick off at 11 a.m. in the Fountain of Life parking lot at 633 W. Badger Rd and proceed down South Park Street to Beld Street and Fisher Street to Penn Park.
“The 'I Have a Dream” speech will be 50 years old in August, so we'll have someone recite that piece,” she says. “We will cut the ribbon to get it started right there.”
The onsite activities will begin around noon with the arrival of the parade. An array of vendors and informational booths will be present to disseminate information. There will be plenty of great food, as always.
“We want to bridge gaps and barriers by bringing in all kinds of information to the park so people can have direct contact with folks of color,” Weatherby-Flowers says.
Weatherby-Flowers adds that while she hopes the event-goers have a lot of fun, it is also a big educational event for all races. She hopes that the positivity of one of the definable celebrations in Madison can go well beyond just the Juneteenth Day Celebration.
“We know about all the facts in the disparities that black folks face and the reality that Dane County incarcerates more black folks than anywhere else and that black folks fare worse in the state of Wisconsin than they do in any other part of the nation,” Weatherby-Flowers says. “We know all of that, but what we're trying to do is to actualize our organization's name — Kujichagulia-Madison Center for Self Determination Inc. — so we can motivate and give young people inspiration to be determined to become more successful. If they can see positive African American activity, they can replicate it.”
The 24th annual Juneteenth Day Celebration Juneteenth Day Celebration will be held on Saturday, June 15 in Penn Park on Fisher Street in the heart of South Madison. The Juneteenth Day Celebration parade will begin at 11 a.m. and the festivities at the park will follow.
For more information, please contact Annie Weatherby-Flowers at (608) 358-2872 or Ronnicia Johnson-Walker at (608) 616-5770.