While Juneteenth has been an official Michigan holiday for 12 years, its roots in the Lansing community date back to 1993. The annual festival started as a small church gathering but has grown into a weeklong celebration of African American culture.
“Juneteenth is an outpouring of expression of the ending of slavery in the United States,” said Marilyn Plummer, chairwoman of the Juneteenth Celebration Committee.
The festival kicks off Thursday with a keynote speech by Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth, wife of the late civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Friday includes a baseball game commemorating the Negro League, and Saturday features a packed slate of live music and dance, children’s activities, a health fair and a parade.
“There’s something for everyone at the celebration,” Plummer said, “It’s a family atmosphere.”
The festival was founded by Gordon Haskins, a member of Lansing’s Mask Memorial CME Church, who had celebrated the holiday in his home state of Texas. The first seven festivals were held on the church grounds. As the event grew, it moved to Adado Riverfront Park, then Benjamin Davis Park, and finally to its current home at St. Joseph Park. Juneteenth National Freedom Day, on the third Saturday of June, was officially signed into Michigan law in 2005.
“It’s really a cultural celebration,” Plummer said. “It’s the joy of freedom for all Americans.”
Plummer been involved with the festival since its inception. While the focus of the festival is African American culture, she stresses that all are welcome to join the celebration.
“The important thing about Juneteenth is that it is a celebration that expresses a cultural mix and diversity,” Plummer said. “A reflection of freedom, but also a joyous expression of inclusion.”
While the festival only happens once a year, Plummer hopes that the spirit of the festival will drive other events in the community.
“We’re always looking for community involvement to step up and promote wellness in our diversity here in Lansing,” Plummer said.
Planning for the festival starts in September, and the committee hosts several events and activities throughout the year.
“It’s all about inviting and enhancing our Lansing community,” Plummer said. “The whole idea of Juneteenth is to express the joy of freedom, remember and understand history and help the community have a better understanding of cultural differences for the improvement of our community,” Plummer said.
Lansing Juneteenth Celebration
City/State Kickoff Program
Thursday, June 16 Lansing City Hall Lobby 124 W. Michigan Ave., Lansing
3-9 p.m. Friday, June
17; 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Saturday, June 18 St. Joseph Park 2125 W Hillsdale St., Lansing (517) 394-6900, juneteenthcelebration.org