Free to celebrate

By Kali Jo Wolkow
Although the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in 1863, it didn\'t officially come to an end for more than two years. The Lansing Juneteenth Festival commemorates that date. Courtesy photo.

The 20th Annual Juneteenth Festival pays tribute to history

Tuesday, June 11 — This Thursday through Saturday, the 20th Annual Lansing Juneteenth Festival will commemorate the end of U.S. slavery. The Lansing event will feature live entertainment, guest speakers and children's activities.

In January 1863, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United Sates, but most states — specifically, those aligned with the Confederacy — were slow to adopt. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation — that Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Tex., with General Order No. 3, which read, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

A special name was given to commemorate the event: Juneteenth. Nearly 150 years later, Lansing’s 20th annual Juneteenth Freedom Festival this weekend pays tribute to the freedom of the last of the slaves. Lansing’s Juneteenth celebration led to the adoption of Michigan’s Juneteenth National Freedom Day, which is celebrated on the third Saturday in June. This is the ninth year of it being a statewide holiday.

“The festival was crucial in making the Juneteenth holiday,” said Marilyn Plummer, co-chairwoman of the Juneteenth Freedom Festival. “We thought it deserved to be a holiday, just like the Fourth of July, because before Granger came to Texas, a lot of people couldn’t truly celebrate freedom because they didn’t have it.”

Shirley Carter, Juneteenth hip hop coordinator, said the Juneteenth festival creates a sense of connectedness through the food, activities — including a tribute softball game to Negro League baseball — and music, including hip hop.

“Hip hop has always been very cultural,” said Carter. “And now we are bringing that hip hop culture back to our area to help blend the generations. Music bridges the gaps. “

Hip-hop dance crew Kruciial Kreatiionz will perform, along with other groups such as Team Sway and All of the Above. Musicians such as jazz/R&B artist Tim Cunningham will also be featured at the festival. Robert Brumfield, community advocate and pastor of Oak Grove Church in Detroit, will be the keynote speaker at the City-State Capitol Kick-Off event for the festival.

But it’s not an event reserved for African Americans. Juneteenth celebration co-chairman Edwin Thompson said the festival is designed to educate and generate excitement about a historical event that isn’t altogether well known.

“It’s not something you’ll find in a textbook,” he said. And typically not in states as far north as Michigan. Although Michigan is far removed from Juneteenth’s origins in the South, Plummer said this doesn’t detract from the festival’s importance.

“It’s an event where we can say this is a day of true freedom for everyone,” she said.

Plummer said Gordon Haskins, a Texan and long-time member of Mask Memorial Church in Lansing, brought his vision of a Juneteenth celebration with him almost 30 years ago. She said he sought out people who could help make his ideas reality. Plummer and Thompson were both on that original committee.

“Haskins’ reasoning was that you don’t discard traditions when you move,” Plummer said. “Think of it like a reunion. You bring the young ones so they can grow up valuing the things they were raised with.”

Plummer said the point was to create a solid connection between generations that would allow for a level of understanding and respect that she found lacking in society.

“We couldn’t be a country that’s united if we had slavery in part of it,” she said. “We are a nation of different types of people, but we respect those differences because we all live here.”

According to Thompson, the events surrounding Juneteenth help show us how society has evolved and teach us the lessons behind those developments.

“Even though we’ve come a long way,” Plummer said, “society still has much to learn.

Juneteenth Festival

June 13-15

5:30 pm.-7 p.m. Thursday

City-State Capitol Kick-off and Opening Ceremony, Lansing City Hall Lobby

Lansing Juneteenth Freedom Festival, St. Joseph Park

3 p.m.-8:30p.m. Friday

6 p.m. Negro League tribute softball game

Hip Hop Society Day, live entertainment, children’s activities, food vendors

11 a.m.-8:30p.m. Saturday

Live entertainment (gospel, R&B, blues, jazz), peace walk, guest speakers, children’s activities, food vendors, health fair