Locals mark Juneteenth
(pictured above: Residents enjoy Saturday’s Juneteenth street festival.)
The city’s annual Juneteenth festival celebrated a landmark anniversary in a new location on Saturday, but the hours-long, jazz-infused gathering had the same old mission.
Prodded by locals’ lack of knowledge about Juneteenth and the origins of African American freedom, Cheryl Harry started the celebration 10 years ago. From the beginning, the festivals have featured live music, dancing and vendors selling fish sandwiches, handbags and everything imaginable in between.
Education and awareness are imbued throughout – not just about Juneteenth – which commemorates the day in June 1865 that the last enslaved blacks in this country learned of their freedom – but also voting rights, public saftey and health and wellness.
Representatives from the Forsyth County Democratic Party, Novant Health, the Winston-Salem Police Department and the Winston-Salem State University School of Health Sciences were among those who set up information booths along East Fifth Street on Saturday. A block of street – near its intersection with Martin Luther King Jr. Drive – was closed for the festival, which began at 4 p.m. and wrapped up around 9:30 p.m.
The site was a new one for Juneteenth, which in the past has been held at Corpening Plaza, Winston Lake Park, Rupert Bell Park and indoors at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum Annex.
“We felt that Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and being here in front of the historic Winston Mutual Insurance Building represents the heart of the black community,” said Harry, who runs the nonprofit Triad Cultural Arts.
By 5 p.m., the area was packed with spectators. Many brought along lawn chairs and umbrellas, creating comfy, shaded places from which to enjoy live jazz performed by noted local acts like Joe Robinson, Janice Price, Keith Byrd and Reggie Buie. The denseness of the crowd just an hour into the event was a pleasant surprise for Harry, who said crowds at past festivals did not peak until well after the half-way point.
“I think it shows that the people of East Winston have been longing for this type of street festival, something that is literally right at their front door,” she said.
Jeffrey Morris provided Harry with another pleasant surprise when he walked by her wearing a t-shirt from the very first Juneteenth festival.
Morris remembers the event quite vividly. He and his wife, Lisa, had just relocated to the city from Georgia and used the event as a cultural educational outing for their four children.
The Morrises were already aware of Juneteenth, having attended festivals in Georgia, and were impressed that their new hometown was making an effort to mark the holiday.
“We have been every year since,” Jeffrey Morris said.
The Morrises’ three older children are adults who have flown the coop, but daughter Jaleh, 17, is still at home and joined her parents on Saturday.
“She knows about this event and why it is important; she knows her history,” Lisa Morris boasted about her daughter.
This year’s festival was dedicated to the late Dr. Maya Angelou, who made special guest appearances at several of the past Juneteenth events.
See more photos from Juneteenth 2014 here: