DONALDSONVILLE-For 12 hours on Saturday, June 12, the city of Donaldsonville celebrated Juneteenth with music, dancing, drum making, and lessons on Black inventors and art.
Nearly 5,000 people from Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Plaquemine, New Orleans, and Texas came to festival said organizers.
“At one time we were so divided but today, we are sharing the culture of African Americans as Americans. Juneteenth is an American Celebration,” said Donaldsonville Councilman Oliver Joseph.
The freedom festival started at Fort Butler with a commemorative wreath laying ceremony at the graves of soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War.
“This time is for us to continue to support the freedom of our ancestors,” said Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan.
For Luther Gray, founder of the Congo Square Foundation in New Orleans, the Donaldsonville celebration was more than a time to share his group’s drum beats but a time to “get back to our roots for the next generation.”
Youth with the River Road African American Museum Society reenacted the lives of famous Blacks including Madame C. J. Walker, Ruby Bridges, and jockey Isaac Murphy.
Jewelry, clothes, books, fragrances, spices, and bags with African and Caribbean influences were sold by vendors who explained the products’ history and meaning.
A dozen health educators presented healthy lifestyle choices and one-on-one advise for improving health. “How can you be free to enjoy life, if you’re not healthy?” said event organizer Kathe Hambrick Jackson, explaining the “Be Free Be Healthy” theme.
Artist Ted Ellis displayed a collection of his paintings that depicted scenes from slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and a portrait of President Barack Obama.
Nationwide, Juneteenth celebrates the ending of slavery in America which came through the January 1, 1863 signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln.
It is celebrated annually in June to recognize June 19, 1865, the date slaves in Galveston, Texas received word of their freedom.
“This day of African-American freedom is a time where we commemorate the end of the ugliest chapter in our country’s history,” said U.S Senator Mary Landrieu in a proclamation.
The celebration comes two days before an Ascension parish resident is arraigned for sending threatening email telling Jackson, “get ready to take the heat”. Jackson, who is also director of the museum, said the email was not considered cyber stalking or a hate crime although the FBI is involved.
She said the threat and ongoing legal action puts her work, the purpose of the museum, and the importance of the Juneteenth celebration “into perspective”.
“We know that this is a very important time in our history.” said Kerry Williams, 19, a museum and event volunteer.