Hundreds of people paraded through Evanston and then gathered for a party at Ingraham Park Saturday to celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday that began over a century ago as a commemoration of freedom for Black Americans.
The festivities marked the city’s fourth year of commemorating Juneteenth, long celebrated in the black community, but only recently achieved formal recognition as an official holiday.
Kemone Kendricks, who spearheaded the effort four years ago in organizing a parade to mark the holiday, said that it deserves the recognition it is finally receiving because “it’s a very important event in history.”
Juneteenth, which actually falls on June 19th, commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.
It was believed to have been one of the last places in Texas to receive the news that slavery had been abolished. Various communities in the United States celebrated this event on June 19th every year, but its popularity waned somewhat over the years.
Interest has increased in recent years, in part because of activists such as Opal Lee, called the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.”
Lee, 96. was present in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed a bill finally making Juneteenth a federal holiday. In Evanston the late restaurateur Hecky Powell organized Juneteenth celebrations for several years, before the event morphed into a parade and city-organized celebration.
Kendricks was inspired by Lee, and local advocates of the holiday, such as Powell, to organize the parade. She believes that Evanston is probably one of the few communities which holds a parade as part of a public celebration of the holiday.
Groups participating in the parade included the South Shore Drill Team, The Jessie White Tumblers (a gymnastics team), Black Women of Evanston, along with the usual parade fare consisting of marching bands, floats and vintage cars.
The after-parade celebration was principally organized by the City of Evanston Parks and Recreation Department, with help from Kendricks and other city agencies.
It was a decidedly family-friendly event, with many games and activities for children, such as a face-painting station set up at the Evanston City Clerk’s booth. There was also entertainment on stage featuring various musical and dance acts.
There were plenty of vendors on hand to sell everything from baked goods to jewelry and art, as well as activists groups like the Community Alliance for Better Government non-profit organizations including Youth and Opportunity United.
Fran Joy, an artist who is also a trustee at the Evanston Art Center, offered several of her art pieces for sale, while talking about her participation in an early Juneteenth celebration that Powell had organized.
She said it was a good thing that Evanston was continuing the Juneteenth tradition, saying that “…it (the celebration) doesn’t have to be, but if not, when?”