What to expect at Milwaukee's Juneteenth 2022 celebration
Freedom Day, Black Independence Day, Juneteenth. It’s a holiday that people will be celebrating this Sunday.
It’s 157 years to the day that Union Army soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. They announced to the enslaved people that they were free.
Milwaukee has hosted public Juneteenth Day celebrations since 1971.
Elizabeth Coggs, director of operations at the Northcott Neighborhood House, a community center in the Harambee neighborhood that organizes Milwaukee’s celebration, explains how the celebrations began.
“Well, it was two awesome queens, Margaret Henningsen and Jan Kemp-Cole, who brought the idea of the Juneteenth Celebration to Milwaukee, Wisconsin 51-years-ago,” says Coggs. “These awesome women had been out of town with family and had experienced the Juneteenth Celebration. And so, Joe Winston was the executive director [of Northcott Neighborhood House] at the time. He jumped for joy.”
“And that was our first Juneteenth Day celebration,” recalls Coggs. Coggs lived in the Harambee neighborhood as a child and remembers walking to Juneteenth with her mom and dad. “And I remember it always being a reunion, or you saw people that you hadn't seen in a while. And it was an occasion to celebrate, and dance, sing. Culture, good food and just good old family ties.”
She says that’s what organizers want people to do this year, even as COVID-19 persists. “We want people to do it safely. If you want to wear a mask, wear your mask. If you're vaccinated, it's outdoor event. We encourage people to social distance. And we worked very diligently and did all of the due diligence with our law enforcement partners, Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department. We will have courtesy ambassadors out in bright green shirts to help people and try to find their way.”
This year, Juneteenth also falls on Father's Day. "The theme is a tribute to dads: father, teacher, protector and hero," says Coggs.
The celebration has historically occurred on King Drive, from North Avenue to Center Street, and has always incorporated Bernice and Clinton Rose Park, formerly known as Garfield Park. This year, the event is taking place on King Drive from Center to Ring Street.
The main components of the event are the parade and the street festival. The parade starts at 9AM on 14th Street and Atkinson Avenue and will include dance and drill and marching band teams.
As the parade winds down Atkinson Avenue and King Drive it will get the Five Points Neighborhood. Coggs says “that's where [the teams] need to show up and show out and do their thing. We've got a lot of celebrity judges. We have a lot of elected officials, we've got schools, we've got senior citizens, we've got every kind of dance group and marching band that you could think of.”
This year’s street festival showcases over 300 new vendors. There will be everything from barbecue, Caribbean and soul food to fresh fruit, corn on the cob and peach cobbler. There are also vendors selling clothing, art, and jewelry. It will be all ages, with a kid zone for youth under 12, including a petting zoo, rides and games and a teen zone with “all the funky music,” says Coggs. “And we're bringing back hula hooping contests, double Dutch single row contests, basketball skills.”
Historically, Juneteenth in Milwaukee has a summer concert. And this year is no different.
“So starting at 5pm [June 19] the Bernice and Clinton Rose Park will be the ‘celebrate culture, jazz and blues concert,’” says Coggs. “And we will continue those jazz and blues concerts every Saturday after Juneteenth up until the end of July from 2pm to 6pm. So it's gonna be a robust summer of creativity.”
Coggs says Juneteenth is significant to all Americans. “It is the day of freedom,” she says. “And here at Northcott Neighborhood House, we practice freedom 365 days a year. Just a couple of weeks ago, we marched in the Pride Parade because that's about freedom. And we raised the Juneteenth flag and banner.”
“And these days and times that we're looking at, there is a lot of discussion about equity and inclusion and diversity. But you got to not only talk to talk, you got to walk the walk,” says Coggs. “And so that's what we're constantly promoting the history, the history of slavery, the factual history of freedom and how all that occurred in Galveston, Texas and has spread all across the country that President Biden would make it a national federal holiday last year.”