Although this is the 158th year since the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, it was Evanston’s first in-person Juneteenth parade.
The parade started at 11am on June 19 at Robert Crown’s newly built community center and finished at Ingraham Park. It featured black artists, poets, speakers, dancers and musicians. Music rode through Evanston by cart, people scattered along the sidewalk in cheer as African drums pounded, while shakers and saxophones were played with pride.
After putting together the first ever Juneeteenth parade virtually last year, Executive organizer Kemone Hendricks promoted, spoke and organized this years in-person edition.Hendricks also organized the first Juneteenth parade virtually in the pandemic. Supporting the event were numerous sponsors and food vendors, including Hecky’s barbecue and Noir d’Ebene. Within the support and celebration however, there is a question of the purpose and importance of Juneteenth.
Juneteenth started in Texas two years after the bill to end slavery was signed due to the information of emancipation being held from many African Americans at that time, therefore leading to the delay that would cause two more years of relentess and terrorizing labor without pay. So when African Americans in Galveston, Tx. first learned about their freedom, they celebrated with prayer meetings, spiritual rituals and new clothes to represent newfound freedom.
However the celebration was short lasted, as once it was over they had to return to live in the afterlife of slavery, the forces of oppression even more influenced to terrorize black people due to the recent illegalization of slavery. And so begs the question, what is Juneteenth? A temporary celebration to later return to oppression, a parade meant to inspire change and acknowledge black progress, or a symbolic replacement for change meant to distract from current problems facing black Americans.
“I hope it really acts as a day of celebrating and appreciating the tremendous contribution that African Americans have made to this country,” AnnaLee Letchinger, the executive director of Evanston In School Music Association, and a sponsor of the parade, answered.
There is a debate to be had of whether Juneteenth is a replacement for necessary change or if it is a purposeful celebration to inspire more change and freedom for blacks in America. As Robert Brown from NPR states, “Juneteenth as a national holiday is symbolism without progress”. And making this debate more prominent is the U.S. President Joe Biden who has signed Juneteenth as a federal holiday on June 18th. While giving time off from work and school to celebrate this is considerate, the problems that black America faces right now dates back to even the early 1900’s. Additionally, this is the first time that this celebration, announcing freedom, has been declared a federal holiday.
And yet, a movement by policy makers to restrict the black vote is succeeding, as of June 21, 17 states are enacting 28 laws to restrict the vote, laws to stop Souls to the Polls, a time where black churches go to vote on Sunday, laws to stop mail-in voting, and laws to conflict the time one can vote to their work hours. Many believe the Juneteenth parade is distracting from ending racist policies and that the federalization of this holiday distracts from awareness about the issues that are going on currently.
But many also have another perspective, one that entails the importance of the Juneteenth parade.
“The Juneteenth parade was a beautiful celebration of freedom. I was on the verge of tears on several occasions, watching the performers and waving to the people in the parade. I’m so glad we live in a city that embraces Juneteenth as a holiday and is dedicated to forwarding the cause of racial equity,” ETHS rising junior Samantha Handley stated.
Although there is rightful and careful dissension of the goal of the parade, it is a time of joy for the black community. It is a refreshing day of recognition of black struggle, and motivation to keep pushing forward.
Juneteenth, now a federal holiday, is one of controversy due to the political effect it has on black America, however it is also a holiday of black art, expression, music, and business. And moreso, a holiday of joy, pronouncing emancipation to aspire towards a day that black America could be free.