(Back row, left to right) Eric Paymon, Nancy Butler, Gina Hendrickson, Jeremy Johnson, and (front row, left to right) Traniece King, Grace Brown, Ezell McDonald, Bobbie Morrow and Emmarie Flaggs comprise the committee that helped organize the 2021 Vicksburg Juneteenth Heritage Festival, which is returning in 2022 with even more planned to celebrate the federal holiday. Photo courtesy Vicksburg Juneteenth Heritage Festival

‘More to Be Done’: Mississippians Celebrate Juneteenth Across Mississippi

A woman in orange sits on a bench outside
Robin Knox is a licensed cosmetologist and the CEO of Queened by Roe LLC, where she braids hair. Photo courtesy Robin Knox

Jackson businesswoman Robin Knox, 24, did not learn of Juneteenth until last year when she attended the Farish Street Juneteenth Festival with her co-worker. It was Saturday and she had just gotten off work, which was a few blocks away. She and her friend drove the few blocks as the blistering heat would not allow for a casual walk.

It was 2 p.m. when they arrived, and the celebration was already in full swing. She passed vendors selling jewelry and vendors selling artwork. One vendor in particular caught her eye, a man selling celebrity portraits. What she thought was a colorful piece of R&B singer Aaliyah from a distance turned out to be a portrait of singer Alicia Keys upon closer inspection. She wanted to buy it, but the price was out of her budget, she remembered.

“I felt like that was just an expression of how creative and talented we are as people,” Knox told the Mississippi Free Press.

Knox continued to move through the festival, noticing a snowball stand here and a food truck for barbecue there. She bought a pair of brown earrings from a jewelry vendor and a silver pair for her mother.

In total, her time at the festival amounted to 30 minutes, but she stayed long enough to observe that something was missing from the celebration: a higher amount of young people.

“Some aspects that I wanted to build off of (was) having something for everybody, something for each group because I feel like that’s important when you’re trying to reach the community and you’re trying to reach different generations within the community,” Knox said.

She noticed that the crowd reflected the older generations here in Jackson, leading her to recognize a need to incorporate more of the younger demographics into the holiday’s celebration.

“That was the gap that I felt like was not being bridged together,” Knox said. “If I did it, I knew I wanted to make sure it was diverse in the sense of being able to have something for each age group.”

Fast forward to 2022, and the CEO of Queened by Roe LLC has planned her own Juneteenth festival for this weekend to reflect that diversity. After the Farish Street event, the licensed cosmetologist researched and educated herself on the actual history behind the holiday.

“A lot of people within my age group did not even learn about Juneteenth until COVID,” Knox said. “That’s how it’s pretty much been for most of us within my age group that I’ve talked to. They were like, ‘I just found out about Juneteenth, too.’”

The Proclamation of Emancipation 1861-1863
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, declaring that all enslaved people in the states engaged in rebellion against the Union shall be freed as of Jan. 1, 1863. Photo courtesy The Ralph E. Becker Collection of Political Americana

Juneteenth commemorates the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. The troops’ arrival came two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that anyone held as a slave in the rebellious states against the Union shall be free. But many Black people did not know they were free until years later.

Newly freed Black people in Galveston broke out in celebration, which became the inspiration for the Juneteenth observances seen today. Juneteenth is considered the longest-running African American holiday and became an official federal holiday on June 17, 2021.

“I was just inspired by the Farish Street festival last year, and I felt like there was a need for more to be contributed in the community to bring awareness to Juneteenth and what it is, especially amongst my age group because I didn’t see a lot of (people) my age out there at the event,” Knox said.

Knox has organized a Juneteenth festival at Smith Park in downtown Jackson this upcoming Saturday, June 18. The event will feature live music performances, food and various Black vendors. Anyone can attend for free from noon to 7 p.m.

“It would be great to bring out younger people and be able to connect with them when it comes to celebrating Black history,” Knox said.

‘My Purpose’

Knox said she began thinking about organizing her own Juneteenth festival in June 2021, but the idea did not solidify until September. At first, she had a business partner who was supposed to help her with the event, but that person dropped out. Knox was left to do it on her own.

“As far as the funding and sponsorship and help, I really didn’t have a lot of help in the beginning,” she said. “When it came to planning, it was literally all me. Of course, I was trying to network, going to different Black-owned businesses on Instagram, reaching out to different Black-owned businesses and letting them know what I wanted to do and the vision. Some people have come on board, you know; some people didn’t.”

After attending the Farish Street Festival in 2021 and learning about Juneteenth, Pascagoula, Miss., native Robin Knox decided to create her own Junteenth festival for 2022 in Jackson, Miss. Courtesy Robin Knox

About three months ago, Knox got help in the form of Shun Lux, an event coordinator who has experience with coordinating music events and bookings. While Knox had already secured some vendors for the festival, having Lux Lounge Entertainment join in added an extra set of hands and new ideas to what she was already arranging, she attested.

“He came on board, and he helped me,” Knox said. “He actually just saw that I was doing it, and he saw that I was the only person, and he was just like, ‘I can help her out.’ He’s super duper genuine. I tell him it’s not a lot of times that you meet somebody genuine that’s not looking for anything more, anything less. They’re just here for the cause,” Knox said.

The businesswoman could not get sponsorships or funding because she does not lead a nonprofit, so she paid for the event through vendor fees and pulling money from her own pocket, she said.

“When I went into it, I went into it with the mindset of ‘I’m going to invest into this’ because this is something that I know, for one, that I wanted to do, and I know that it’s very much needed and necessary in our community,” she added.

President Biden bends slightly to talk with Opal Lee in the White House
President Joe Biden talks with Opal Lee after signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act Bill, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in the East Room of the White House. Official White House Photo by Chandler West

The hairstylist said people can expect food vendors like Mr. Turkey Leg, Snow Biz and others to be in attendance, as well as live performances from more than 17 local and non-local musicians, guest speakers who will talk about the history of Juneteenth and free cotton candy for the kids.

Knox said she is really in awe of her accomplishment with this festival. Identity, unity, growth, healing, revolution and progress—that is what the Juneteenth holiday means to her through this process, she said.

“This is just the beginning for me, as far as me being a part of the community and being a community leader,” Knox proclaimed. “I’ve learned a lot about my purpose doing this and learning that I definitely do enjoy doing it, and I don’t want to stop here because I feel like there’s so much more that needs to be done.”

More Juneteenth Events in Capital City

Those in and near the Jackson metro can also celebrate the holiday earlier through the Juneteenth Fireworks Extravaganza. The display will be held near the Jackson Convention Complex (105 E. Pascagoula St.) in the downtown area on Friday, June 17. Entertainment will begin at 6:30 p.m., with the fireworks launching after the final act of the evening. Food vendors will be on-site.

The Juneteenth Parade and Festival in downtown Jackson will feature multiple Black-owned businesses setting up booths to sell goods such as seasoning blends, barbecued food, custom T-shirts and more. The event will take place on Saturday, June 18, from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and will also include live music, a TikTok dance-off, an exotic animal show and a parade that goes down Court, State, Pearl and Lamar streets. Families are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or tents during the festival, should they wish.

Additionally, the Eighth Episcopal District of the African American Methodist Episcopal Church will host an annual Juneteenth-focused worship service and celebration on Saturday, June 18, starting at 10 a.m. in Exhibit Hall B at the Jackson Convention Complex. Following the service is a plate luncheon with live entertainment. Tickets to the luncheon are $50 for adults and $25 for children.

Delta Roots Festival in Greenville

Ellen Harris knows well the history of Juneteenth, having grown up in the Third Ward in Houston, Texas.

She worked for USDA in Maryland before relocating to Greenville, Miss., six years ago for work, though Harris retired from her USDA job in December 2021. Outside her career, she is a certified yoga instructor and nutritionist with her own nonprofit organization, Third Ward Zen, which focuses on wellness.

“Wellness and health are very important to me, but I don’t tell people what to eat or do diets or anything,” Harris told the Mississippi Free Press. “It’s all about exposing people to different choices to make healthy choices.”

After organizing two wellness events in the community before the pandemic, Harris felt she wanted to continue doing events of that nature, but something much bigger.

Though Ellen Harris is new to the Greenville community, she has always wanted to put on a festival. This year, she got the opportunity by organizing the June 18, 2022, Delta Roots Festival, which centers around wellness and self-care in the Mississippi Delta. Courtesy of Ellen Harris

“I personally have always wanted to do a festival,” Harris said. “It was pre-pandemic. Cassandra (Atley) and I and two other ladies, we did what we called a community wellness event at the Greenville Higher Education Center.”

“It was like a half-day thing where (Atley) did a Zumba session. I did a yoga session. One of the ladies and her husband have an herb business, and he came in and talked about the different herbs that they carry.”

Harris said planning began in December for the Delta Roots Festival, a Juneteenth wellness festival that will feature wellness classes, vendors, music and raffles on Saturday, June 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Washington County Courthouse Arboretum in Greenville, Miss. Harris and Atley will teach yoga and Zumba classes, respectively, but there will be other wellness practitioners there as well.

“We have somebody doing kickboxing. We have someone doing fitness. We have someone coming from Jackson doing African drumming and dance, and they’re going to do it like a workshop where they’re going to do a short performance. Then they’re going to invite people to join them and teach them some of the steps,” Harris said.

Vendors will be selling natural juices, natural hair and body products, journals and more. R.O.O.T.S, which stands for Ramping up Our Outreach Towards promoting Self-care in the Mississippi Delta, is the theme of the event, one that Cassandra Atley came up with.

Six black people in formal wear pose for an old black and white photo
American citizens pose for a photo during an Emancipation Day celebration held June 19, 1900, in ‘East Woods’ on East 24th St. in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy Austin History Center

“It was at one of our planning meetings, but as she was talking about Delta roots, I was listening and trying to pull together what our objective was and what our vision was, and it expanded from there,” Cassandra Atley told the Mississippi Free Press.

“We’re just trying to offer people some ideas about how you can move,” Harris said.

Atley said that Black people have inundated the history of the majority, but learning about and celebrating Juneteenth and other Black history that isn’t taught in public schools is vital.

“It’s incumbent upon us to teach and to share this type of history and help our young people to connect to, draw some meaning from it and use it to do some of the very things that we’re doing now,” Atley said. “Even though this is wellness, you can tie all of it together.”

Vicksburg Juneteenth Heritage Festival

Ezell McDonald introduced Juneteenth to Bobby Bingham Morrow in 1999. Since then, Morrow has learned so much about the holiday’s history and celebrates it with her family every year. Vicksburg is no stranger to Juneteenth observances, as the city saw its earliest festival in 1993.

“Since then we have been having Juneteenth festivals in Vicksburg annually, but they’ve been much more low-key than what we started last year,” Morrow told the Mississippi Free Press.

In 2021, Morrow and a committee of others passionate about spotlighting the holiday organized the Vicksburg Juneteenth Heritage Festival, a now-annual Juneteenth celebration that features music, vendors, food, trivia, history, poetry and more.

“This committee formed last year. We said that we would not go any further until we consolidate this (so) that we are guaranteed that someone will be carrying on the Juneteenth festival in Vicksburg,” the committee chair said.

The Vicksburg Juneteenth Heritage Festival has gotten bigger since last year’s festivities, which caused the committee to change locations due to high attendance. Photo courtesy Vicksburg Juneteenth Heritage Committee

Jeremy Johnson, the committee president, said he had been having thoughts of doing a Juneteenth celebration on behalf of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, when he saw Morrow at a gas station. After talking, she revealed she and a few others were planning an event, and she invited him to join.

“From that moment on, we worked frequently to get to the point where we are now,” Johnson told the Mississippi Free Press. “I’m just excited about these opportunities.”

They formed a  25-person committee of people representing a range of age brackets, as well as people from diverse career backgrounds. Planning began right after last year’s festivities, but efforts really began to ramp up in January 2022, Morrow said.

This year, visitors can expect to see 40 vendors along with gospel, R&B and hip-hop acts; poetry and trivia competitions; a brigadier general’s recitation of the Emancipation Proclamation and a lot more. The event will last from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Halls Ferry Park (130 Halls Ferry Park Road) in Vicksburg, Miss.

“The African drum call is a very tearful moment for me, and the children last year seem to have enjoyed that portion of the history, that historical aspect,” Morrow said. “So I’m expecting that again this year that the youth will come fully engaged.”

Kids are not alone in becoming more interested in the trivia games and in Juneteenth’s history, Johnson said. Many of the adults are engaging and learning more about the holiday, acquiring a genuine interest in its legacy.

“When we had the trivia and we were discussing the history, people were actually listening,” Johnson said. “We had a diverse group, and that part was the biggest part for me, not just the kids learning, but everybody—because the only way we can move this nation forward as if everybody understands the history.”

Morrow said she enjoyed seeing the interactions between people of varying ages, seeing a 70-year-old and 40-year-old dancing to a blues song or a 15-year-old hanging out with a 5-year-old. Juneteenth, for her, is like going to church on Sunday. No matter how long you stay or what you have on your agenda, you have to do Juneteenth, she said.

Fireworks blooming in the sky
The Juneteenth Fireworks Extravaganza celebration begins at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 17, 2022, outside the Jackson Convention Complex in downtown Jackson, Miss. Photo by Elisha Terada on Unsplash

“You sacrifice all year long for certain things, sacrifice for Juneteenth every year,” Morrow said. “And make sure your children know that you will rise from your graves, and you will come get them if they don’t participate in and continue to carry the legacy of Juneteenth. To me it’s a Jesus holiday.”

For Johnson, Juneteenth has become one of the things he started to take more seriously by understanding what it is.

“It’s easy not to know something, and sometimes we lack knowledge because nobody told us the full story. To me, it just boils down to Juneteenth cannot be a Black holiday. It has to be a holiday just like Christmas, Fourth of July and Memorial Day,” he said.

From Coast to Tupelo, More Celebrations

Other cities and towns throughout the state will also witness Juneteenth celebrations this weekend.

Along the coast, the Gulfport City-Wide Juneteenth Celebration Committee has organized its second-annual Juneteenth Kick-Off Party at the Isiah Fredricks Community Center (3312 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Gulfport) on Friday, June 17. Restricted to adults ages 21 and up, the mixer will feature a live performance from Fly High, music from DJ C-Rock, heavy hors d’oeuvres, an open bar and more. Tickets are $20 apiece, and attendees are allowed to bring their own adult beverages of choice.

On Sunday, June 19, the committee will also host the Gulfport Juneteenth Freedom Brunch and Jamii Awards at the Isiah Fredricks Community Center from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Community leaders Angie Juzang and Jeffrey Hulum will receive The Christene Brice Leader-In-Action Award and the Lloyd Croutch Service-To-Culture Award, respectively. A group of Black-owned restaurants sponsor the brunch, which costs $25 per person.

For those who enjoy nightlife, Movers and Shakers Social Club Inc. presents a Juneteenth Soiree at the Biloxi Community Center (591 Howard Ave., Biloxi) on Friday, June 17, starting at 8 p.m. Attendees must be at least 21 years of age and are encouraged to bring their own food and drinks. Tickets are $20.

Soul musician Jonathan Blanchard will present “History to Hip Hop” at the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience in Meridian, Miss., on June 18, 2022, before performing with his band later that afternoon. Photo courtesy The MAX

Up north in Tupelo, Miss., the Juneteenth Tupelo Freedom Celebration kicks off with a parade on Saturday, June 18, at noon, followed by a festival at Gum Tree Park running until 2 p.m. The event will include live-music performances from CrossRoad Band, Ricky Rowan, Lawrence McKenzie, Marvin Davis, New Converted Voices, Jay R. Green, Brandon Burnside, Moneque, Changed, Boogie Man, Focus, Unique JS, Rapper J and Music Doll TB. Free tamales and refreshments are available. Festival-goers who wish to sit to enjoy the music should bring their own blankets or lawn chairs.

La’Rose Closet and Twyla T. Presents organized the Winston County Juneteenth Festival for Saturday, June 18, which will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Louisville Coliseum (201 Ivy Avenue, Louisville). Black-owned businesses will set up tables to sell their wares while entertainers perform. Entry to the celebration costs $60.

The 2022 Canton Juneteenth Celebration will feature multiple events, including a Juneteenth 5K Freedom Run/Walk, a health fair, a community forum, empowerment sessions for children and adults, a series of live performances and more. The 5K’s route passes by Mt. Zion Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil-rights leaders gathered during the Civil Rights Movement. For the full schedule of events, visit cantonjuneteenth.com.

Musical acts King George, Ob Buchana, J-Wonn, Jaye Hammer and Tina Pittman headline the Wayne County Juneteenth Musical Festival on Saturday, June 18, at the Wayne County Fairgrounds in Waynesboro, Miss., located off Highway 63. DJ Downsouth hosts the event. Gates open at 10 a.m., and the show begins at 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, in Meridian, Miss., Jonathan Blanchard and the Usual Suspects will perform on Saturday, June 18, at the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience (2155 Front St., Meridian), better known as The MAX. As part of the national Juneteenth celebration, Blanchard will present “History to Hip Hop,” an exploration of African American music from long-ago field songs to modern hip-hop, prior to his band’s show. The presentation begins at 1 p.m., and the concert goes from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Read more about the history of Juneteenth at the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s website

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