Juneteenth 2024: Growing Pains

The video below shows a short presentation I was asked to give at my church on June 16th ahead of the Juneteenth celebrations of 2024.  I started with a story of the first time I heard the term Juneteenth, about 50 years ago when Ralph Ellison, author of the great American novel Invisible Man, came to visit the University of Virginia when I was a graduate student there in the mid-70’s.  Then I turned to the history.  (I write more about it in “Lift Every Voice and Sing: Juneteenth 2021.”)

On June 19th, 1865, Union Army major general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to announce General Order No. 3, enforcing freedom of enslaved people in Texas, the last state of the Confederacy with institutional slavery.  June and 19th = Juneteenth, which has been celebrated here and there across the United States, especially in the Black community, since 1865.  It took nearly 156 years longer for it to become a national holiday, when, on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed it into being.

During my short presentation I showed a few seconds from my 2023 Juneteenth video. (You can see that full video Here.)  In the interest of time, I cut this video from the one below and added on, instead, a few seconds from this year’s Juneteenth celebration in Aurora, IL, which I believe is the second oldest in the state.  It’s in its 23rd year, and my presentation turned to a conversation my son Rick had with the founder of the event, Ricky Rodgers, president of African American Men of Unity, the AAMOU.  It seems that the city of Aurora is planning to do its own event in the coming years, and it wants to grow the celebration into something much bigger, maybe calling it something like The Midwest Juneteenth Festival.  They may hold it at the city’s big outdoor concert venue, Riveredge Park.  It may feature A-list headliners. I heard a rumor, for example, that they wanted to bring in people like Lil Wayne!

I also heard that the AAMOU wasn’t even at the table for discussions.  “We’ve been doing this for 23 years, so why can’t we combine what we’re doing with what the city wants to do,” said Ricky Rodgers.  Presently, the Juneteenth celebration is held at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, a smaller park in a neighborhood on Aurora’s east side.  It’s family oriented, and the talent show features people from neighborhoods all over Aurora, as well as vendors and food tents, and a parade of cars and motorcycles through the surrounding neighborhood as a finale.  Hundreds of people attend and have a great time.  But the city wants thousands of people, and probably a more professional atmosphere and bigger acts that will attract those thousands.

In a way, I might want that too.  Maybe.  In “Take My People with Me: Juneteenth 2023,” my article and video on the 22nd annual celebration last year, I say that “…at this year’s Juneteenth celebration in Aurora, I thought that maybe this holiday might be one of the things that helps more and more Americans embrace the fight against racism as much as the celebrations of Pride Month have helped that community.  I’m deep in thought about that….”  And about growing pains.  I like the informal, family feel of Aurora’s present celebration, but if it grows bigger and more “professional” we’ll probably lose that feel. It’s an old story: something starts out small, personal, family-centered, but as it gets bigger those origins get lost.  At least, though, I hope that the AAMOU will get a seat at the discussion table, that they’ll have a voice in whatever is coming next.

This article and video is part of a series on Juneteenth. Go to the LEAD POST Here.

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