Juneteenth celebrations are planned for New Orleans
11th June 2012 · 0 Comments
By Kelly Parker
An impressive array of activities celebrating Juneteenth is set for this weekend in New Orleans despite questions about the man who originally took it upon himself to plan the annual summer event being initially excluded from planning meetings and funding sources. In the end, a meeting was held Tuesday morning during which a number of grievances were aired and resolved for the time being.
Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery, can be traced to Galveston, Texas in June of 1865. Over the years, the observance of African American Emancipation Day has spread across our country and beyond. Through the diligent efforts of those at the grassroots level to those on the state and national levels, over half of all states now have some form of legislation or declaration establishing Juneteenth as a holiday or special day of recognition.
John Mosley, executive director of the African-American Male and Female Institute, has been spearheading local efforts to celebrate Juneteenth in New Orleans for more than two decades. 2012 would have marked the 22nd consecutive year he has planned the event. But he recently learned that another group, the New Orleans Juneteenth Committee, had begun formulating plans to celebrate the important Black holiday.
“I’ve never made any claim that Juneteenth belongs to me,”Mosley told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “Juneteenth is like Christmas and Easter — anybody can have a Juneteenth. But most people know that I am the one who has been running the Juneteenth celebration for these 21 years.”
Moseley said that Tuesday’s meeting was in fact the second planning committee meeting he had attended. About a month earlier, Mosley discovered that many of the plans for the celebration had already been set in place.
“I understand that they wanted to do what they wanted to do, but as I told them Tuesday, had they come to me from the outset I might have been able to save them some of the heartache that they were going through,” Mosley said.
Mosley said the New Orleans Juneteenth Committee formed in 2011 and held an event last summer.
Mosley said that he is disappointed that some of the same groups that once refused to assist him in gaining financial support for the annual Juneteenth event are now providing funds for the NOJC.
“This administration has made it unequivocally clear that when it comes to Black people, they’re really not going to do anything to help you,” Mosley said.
“For every administration since I started planning Juneteenth celebrations more than 20 years ago, City Hall had been funding Juneteenth,” Mosley said. “They had been my main support. But Mitch Landrieu’s regime said that they were not going to fund Juneteenth. Point blank.”
The NOJC was initially promised a grant from the Landrieu administration but was later told that the city would only waive certain fees. “They were misled that they were going to get a big grant of some kind. The city can waive all of those fees because those facilities belong to the city,” Mosley said. “They can waive fees easily without missing a beat but they give their friends real money. How much money is the city going to give you?”
Moseley said that the NOJC managed to get in-kind grants from a number of groups that he had sought financial support from over the years like Quint Davis and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation and the Home Team.
Mosley said he is concerned about the donations these groups have given for Juneteenth because “it’s a facade. The money they are giving is nothing but kibbles and bits. They aren’t giving planners hundreds of thousands of dollars where they can go out and hire major artists to really blow Juneteenth out of the water for this city.
“I’m concerned by whatever white support for Juneteenth will be garnered if it isn’t genuine, and I know it is not that genuine by the amount that they give,” Mosley said.
Mosley said that the city’s richest Black people have seldom offered financial support to local Juneteenth celebrations or even attended these events but show up in droves for events like the Jazz Fest and Essence Music Festival.
Members of the NOJC could not be reached for comment Friday but did speak with The Louisiana Weekly earlier during the week about the Juneteenth celebration.
The New Orleans Juneteenth Committee will host its annual Juneteenth festival, Friday, June 15, through Sunday, June 17. This year’s event, Celebrating Freedom, honors the African-American experience with a weekend filled with art, music, poetry, food and seminars at Congo Square. Event sponsors include Liberty Bank & Trust, City of New Orleans District C Councilmember Kristen Palmer, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, The New Orleans African American Museum, United Health Care, Amerigroup, SDT, LLC, Signs-Now and Metro Disposal.
On Friday, the Celebrating Family & Friends Fundraiser takes place at the NOAAM, beginning at 6:00 p.m. The evening celebration features historical re-enactments, home-remedies demonstrations, great food and live musical performances from Bamboula 2000 & Glen David Andrews. Tickets are $20 per person.The free festival takes place Saturday and Sunday from noon to 7:00 p.m. at Congo Square. There will be exhibitions, a marketplace, community panel discussions, activities for the kids, and a musical line-up featuring an array of local favorites.
The NOJC, which consists of various community leaders and cultural ambassadors, believes there’s a special connection between New Orleans and Juneteenth. “Historically, the first of January was designated as the customary day for celebrating African-American emancipation in New Orleans because it was on that day in 1863 that the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect,” committee co-chair, Asali D. Ecclesiastes told The Louisiana Weekly. “However, according to local historian Malcolm Suber, the country’s very first emancipation celebration was held in New Orleans on May 1, 1862, when General Benjamin Butler and 15,000 Union troops entered and occupied the city, delivering a fatal blow to the Confederate cause. The enslaved from all over the city and surrounding plantations poured into New Orleans and Congo Square located in Treme’, declaring it a day of Jubilee-though the military quickly dispelled the notion that they were a liberation army.”
According to the committee, New Orleans Emancipation Day was designated January 1 and was widely observed until the late 1960s. The most visible adherents to the holiday were the city’s church associations. In 1913, the city marked their 50th anniversary of emancipation with a mass parade held on St. Charles Avenue; proceeding to Canal Street. By 1918, over 500 returning colored soldiers of World War I participated in the celebration.
The group believes there’s a more consequential need to stress the importance of family during this year’s event; as the community sees the start of yet another summer, coinciding with a surge of violence.
“With the ongoing violence affecting the city, we felt it was fitting to commemorate the Juneteenth holiday with a weekend celebration truly paying homage to our past, present and future. What makes our Juneteenth festival even more special is that this entire weekend takes place Father’s Day weekend.”
Johnson also hopes the event can begin to develop more dialogue between youth and adults in the community.
“We are particularly excited about our youth day, which will be hosted by Oliver Thomas and will feature a performance by Dee-1 and a community talkback called ‘CIYS? Can I Ask You Something?’ conducted by Project Future for the Youth,” she says.
Mosley says that any Juneteenth celebration needs to include critical thought and debate about the issues confronting the descendants of enslaved Africans and efforts to achieve economic freedom and self-determination. “While I understand and appreciate the fact that New Orleans is culturally Afrocentric, what good is it if all we’re good at doing is giving a good second-line, throwing a good party and dancing a jig…
“What I said to the group Tuesday was ‘God bless y’all and I will lend my name to support you, but you didn’t do it right,’” Mosley continued. “The reason I said they didn’t do it right is because we should have coalitioned together from the very beginning. You shouldn’t have had any plans done without saying ‘Let’s find him.’ At the meeting, Bro. Leon Waters said that at the very first two meetings that he went to my name came up. But when I did get invited and I went to the meeting I was told that they couldn’t find me. You know what I told them? ‘I was not lost.’
“I’m not against working with these folks,” he said. “I just want us to work together in ideological clarity of agreement.”
Mosely said that any effort to celebrate Juneteenth that doesn’t involve efforts to empower Black people economically and politically is pointless. “What are we going to do to raise Black consciousness?” he asked. “Some of these financial backers are giving us kibbles and bits so we can have a party on Juneteenth. Let’s see if they want to support us if we decide to have some real consciousness level-raising projects all across the city. Let’s all go forth and try to wake our people up from the deep sleep that’s been going on ever since the days of Willie Lynch.”
To purchase tickets for the Family Reunion or for more information on the New Orleans Juneteenth Celebrating Freedom Festival, visit www.neworleansjuneteenth.net.
Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.
This article was originally published in the June 11, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper