Madison’s 33rd Annual Juneteenth Celebration is a unique opportunity to experience the rich history of Black Americans through various forms of entertainment, lectures, performances, exhibits, visual presentations, food, music, and other activities.
“The importance of Juneteenth is that shared history, the richness of who we are, and the coming together,” says Madison Juneteenth founder Annie Weatherby Flowers, who has been organizing Madison’s Juneteenth since the very beginning.
The annual Juneteenth parade will start at Fountain of Life Church on Saturday, June 18, 11 a.m. and the all-day Juneteenth Celebration will follow at Penn Park on Madison’s south side. However, Juneteenth events, under this year’s theme “Black Resilience: Embracing the Past to Define the Future,” have been happening all week long. The Kujichagulia Madison Center for Self-Determination, a nonprofit organization that promotes African American cultural and educational events, has been organizing the events for Juneteenth week.
“Juneteenth is important because in Madison, most times when you hear about Black folks it is almost always negative in the press, negative in terms of perception and negative in terms of disparities, but there are so many great things that Black folks have done,” Weatherby-Flowers tells Madison365. “So it’s a day for us to really heal and learn, but also have a day of celebration.
“The Juneteenth presentations,” she adds, “are about healing, and also about resilience.”
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, a day when African-American slaves in Texas were told by Union forces that they were free. They were the final group of slaves to realize their freedom. Deep in the Confederacy, they were unaware of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation almost two years earlier. A celebration of the day has been held annually in Texas ever since, which eventually spread to other states.
Forty-seven states, including Wisconsin, have declared Juneteenth (June 19) to be a state holiday. President Biden signed into law Juneteenth as an official national/federal holiday on June 17, 2021.
“Juneteenth is about providing information to improve outcomes to make us a more effective part of the total Madison community,” Weatherby-Flowers says. “We will talk about some of the ways that we can remove some of those disparities and shine a light on some of the past ways that we’ve overcome certain obstacles and emphasize how resilience has brought us this far.”
Weatherby-Flowers remembers the origins of Juneteenth in Madison that was a direct result of a conversation with a colleague.
“The idea of bringing Juneteenth to Madison started with a conversation over lunch with myself and Diane Winfrey, who was the director at Madison Inner City Council on Substance Abuse in 1989,” Weatherby-Flowers remembers. “We were both from Milwaukee and we were talking about the difference [between the cities] in terms of there not being a place that Black people can go to because we were separated socially, economically and geographically. And, today, 32 years later, we’re still separated socially, economically and geographically.
“And so one thing that brought that connects us is our routine. And Juneteenth was the platform that we use, so Diane said, ‘Let’s make it happen,'” Weatherby-Flowers adds. “So that’s what happened.”
That original group of Juneteenth Day Celebration planners included Black community leaders like Weatherby-Flowers, Mona Winston and John Winston Sr., Cheryl and Isadore Knox, Ed Holmes, and Betty Franklin-Hammonds and was pulled together on a budget of about $1,000.
“I pulled together a team of folks for that first Juneteenth, but then the next year only me and Mona [Winston] showed up,” Weatherby-Flowers says. “For 25 years, it was Mona and I organizing Juneteenth in Madison.”
The small, family-friendly event grew from that first year to a giant event with seven large tents full of activities. In fact, USA Today ranked Madison’s Juneteenth Day Celebration as one of the top celebrations in the nation.
The week’s Madison Juneteenth activities kicked off with a flag-raising in downtown Madison on Monday and will conclude with a National Father’s Day Grill-Off on Sunday, June 19.
In between, there has been a whole host of daily online Juneteenth events including Black Wellness sessions on hypertension, cancer, building resilience in mental health, precision medicine, autoimmune diseases in the Black community and more. At a Community Science Fair on Saturday at Penn Park, community members can participate in hands-on stations, and chat with scientists from UW–Madison.
“We have a jam-packed week of activities for Juneteenth that we are really excited about and we hope people can tune into,” Weatherby-Flowers says.
The Juneteenth Celebration on Saturday will attract Dane County residents from all walks of life as it has done every year for the last 33 years, as community members will experience the celebration of the lived experiences and accomplishments of Black Americans throughout history to the present day.
“The celebration in the park is where we really celebrate ourselves and our accomplishments,” Weatherby-Flowers says. “I’ve been researching the common characteristics in the diaspora and it is our rhythm, it is our swag, it is the way we cherish family. It is our food. It is our love for our family. And so one of the things that we’re going to be doing at Juneteenth is really highlighting those characteristics that transcend from Africa to here. All of these kinds of characteristics transcend across the ocean. Anywhere we land, those characteristics at present.”
For more information about Madison’s 33rd annual Juneteenth Celebration, click here.