Milwaukee Magazine: Juneteenth Day’s Street Festival May Be Canceled, But Milwaukee’s Still Celebrating

June 17, 2020
By Elizabeth Johnson
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There are still opportunities to celebrate Juneteenth in Milwaukee this year, even though the annual street festival had to be canceled.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of the last enslaved people in the South in 1865. This year, Juneteenth lands in the midst of ongoing protests for the Black Lives Matter movement, and for the first time, Milwaukee County is treating the day as an official holiday.

Milwaukee’s 49th Juneteenth Day Celebration — organized by community center Northcott Neighborhood House — will be hosted virtually on WTMJ 4 and WJMR 98.3.

Starting at 4 p.m. on Channel 4, community leaders will discuss the history of Juneteenth in Milwaukee and beyond, the arts and entertainment of the celebration and the holiday’s future. The annual Miss Juneteenth and Mister Juneteenth Pageants, which celebrate the achievements of Milwaukee’s youth, will also be launched on Friday.

Another virtual Juneteenth celebration will be hosted by Safe and Sound, an organization that works with residents, youth and law enforcement to build community in Milwaukee’s neighborhoods.

The group will provide a platform for local artists and youth voices live on Facebook, in place of its usual Youth Voice Stage at the Juneteenth Day Celebration. The event is scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. Friday.

Damien Smith, Safe and Sound’s youth program manager, said that in addition to amplifying artistic voices, Friday’s Facebook program aims to educate audiences about the history of Juneteenth.

“American history and black history are not separate — that’s one of the things that we want to emphasize,” Smith said. “Juneteenth really should be a culmination of education, a culmination of learning.”

A wide range of local artists will be featured — the lineup includes dance, hip-hop, rap, drum and spoken word performances prerecorded throughout Milwaukee.

The program also includes conversations with Clayborn Benson, founding director of Wisconsin’s Black Historical Society, and Reggie Jackson, head griot of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, as well as testimonials from Milwaukeeans about their previous Juneteenth experiences.

Smith emphasized the importance of understanding black history to contextualize the recent protests and political climate. The Black Historical Society and the Black Holocaust Museum are both valuable educational resources for Milwaukeeans of all ages.

“You got to know where you came from in order to understand where you are now and where you’re going,” Smith said.