Milwaukee’s annual Juneteenth celebration was a mixed bag this year, complete with a rollercoaster of emotions, symbols, and parallels. The day started with rain, but the spirit and determination of our community was crystal clear. Generational torches were being passed, ancestors honored, and the lessons of the high cost of freedom was being taught to children. And beneath the surface, there were real-time reminders of how a nation could be so brutal and unkind.
Milwaukee continues to have one of the longest-running Juneteenth celebrations in the country.
Primarily, the same people have been organizing and hosting it, since its inception. Each year, like clockwork, we know that our city will actively acknowledge the June 19, 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery, that was two years late in coming to the state of Texas. even though the Emancipation Proclamation formally abolished slavery in 1863, the news traveled slowly through confederate states. So, for many this date truly represents freedom, for all enslaved Africans in the United States.
June 19, of that critical year, marked a true moment in the nation’s history, when the application and power of the law was understood. And while, many know the story, others do not. But individuals like MacArthur Weddle and Adriene Griffin, have labored for over 25 years to ensure that Milwaukee’s commemoration served as a resource in understanding that history. But as the scissors cut the ribbon at this year’s opening ceremony, it came with a changing of the guard. Both Mr. Weddle and Ms. Griffin have said this was likely their last time organizing Milwaukee’s Juneteenth Day. The torch was being passed.
Scores of parents stood soaked but poised to wave and shout “Happy Juneteenth,” with their children. I greeted them during the parade. No number of showers would rob them of the chance to honor their ancestors. I noticed the elders who sat steadfastly in lawn chairs, umbrellas overhead, and wondered about the stories they could re-tell about Black Codes and Jim Crow, that followed the abolishment of slavery.
Given the significance of the day, I was also cognizant of the manner in which the United States is once again, treating people of color, as subhuman or less than. The images of immigrant children taken from their parents, whether they had illegally or legally, entered this country was with me as I dressed for Juneteenth that morning. While we were commemorating the end of bondage and the sanctioned destruction of black families, it was surreal to know that the Trump administration was waging a war of their own against immigrants seeking safe harbor in this country.
The parallels, in some regards, were frightening and beckoned the question how far could this government sanctioned cruelty go? African-Americans know the answer, all too well. Maltreatment can be rationalized. The bible was used to justify slavery, as it was recently used to defend the separation of immigrant children from their families. Juneteenth reminds us that if we forget, we are doomed to repeat our past. I say NEVER!