Editor’s note: We’ve updated this explainer on Juneteenth Day that was originally published June 19, 2019.
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 50th Juneteenth Day on Saturday, 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 former 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 served at Northcott for 42 years and retired in 2019. He is one of the main leaders behind Milwaukee’s Juneteenth Day celebration and was featured in an article in the Journal Sentinel for his efforts.
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.
Fifty 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.
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.
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 Saturday?
Northcott Neighborhood House is celebrating its 50th annual Juneteenth Day. The parade will kick off at North 14th Street and West Atkinson Avenue and head toward West Burleigh Street and North Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 19. The opening ceremonies and ensuing festival will take place on King Drive between West Burleigh Street and West North Avenue from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be vendors, entertainment, community resources and food and drink. Attendees are required to wear face masks.