Juneteenth Day is a day of celebration and remembrance. The tradition began upon the end of the Civil War and has carried on through the generations. Milwaukee is celebrating its 48th Juneteenth Day on Tuesday, June 19.
What is Juneteenth Day?
Juneteenth Day celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that the Civil War had ended and with it, the enslavement of black people, according to Juneteenth Day Milwaukee, Milwaukee’s official Juneteenth Day website. This was two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Upon hearing the news, people broke out into celebration. Eventually, that day became known as Juneteenth Day.
McArthur Weddle, the executive director of Northcott Neighborhood House, which is a multipurpose community center, said Juneteenth Day focuses on the importance of recognizing one’s heritage. Weddle, who has been with Northcott for 42 years and is retiring this month, according to the Journal Sentinel, is one of the main leaders behind Milwaukee’s Juneteenth Day celebration.
What is the history of Juneteenth in Milwaukee?
In 1971, Milwaukee celebrated its first Juneteenth Day, Weddle said.
Weddle said a Northcott Neighborhood House employee was visiting a relative who lived in the South. Her visit coincided with June June Day, what the locals called Juneteenth Day. Inspired by the celebration, the employee suggested Milwaukee throw its own celebration.
Forty-eight years later, Milwaukee continues to celebrate Juneteenth Day with an all-day affair that continues to grow with additional vendors, speakers and events such as the pageant.
The Miss Juneteenth Day pageant began 27 years ago. Several years ago, a Little Miss Juneteenth Pageant was added for young girls ages 7-13. The pageant provides young women the opportunity to showcase their talents, academic achievements and community contributions. The winner is featured in the Juneteenth Day parade along with the grand marshals.
How does Milwaukee celebrate?
Originally, Milwaukee’s Juneteenth Day celebration was held on a couple of blocks and featured a handful of vendors. These days, it spans four blocks and has hundreds of vendors, a parade and a Miss and Little Miss Juneteenth Day pageant.
“This is a day of celebration and of jubilation,” Weddle said.
Marcus Duke said Milwaukee has one of the best Juneteenth Day celebrations. Duke is the executive director of Club K.I.D.S. (Kids In Danger Saved), an organization that empowers children to stay out of gangs. He said the celebration gives urban vendors a chance to showcase their products and provides place to reconnect with old friends.
“The Milwaukee celebration is so huge because there’s a lot of pride in the black community,” Duke said. “Other cities can’t even fill a park.”
What is the significance of Juneteenth Day?
While Juneteenth Day is a day of celebration, it also focuses on heritage and ancestry.
“Our ancestors gave up everything,” Weddle said.
The day is dedicated to reflecting on the past and progressing toward a brighter future. Weddle said Juneteenth Day is about fellowship and unity.
What’s happening today?
The parade begins on the corner of North 19th Street and West Atkinson Avenue at 10 a.m., followed by the opening ceremony at noon. The parade will feature Miss Juneteenth and co-grand marshals, Adriane Griffin and Bob Johnson.
The celebration will be held on North Dr. Martin Luther King Drive between West Center and Burleigh streets and will conclude at 5:30 p.m.