Now a federal holiday, Juneteenth has rich history in Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - During the weekend of June 17 through 19, the newest federal holiday is celebrated across the country, but Memphians have been celebrating for close to 30 years. And this year is no exception.
But, what exactly is Juneteenth and why does it hold such significance for so many people?
It’s most certainly a time of celebration and reflection, and it all started back in 1865 on June 19. That’s when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and freed the remaining U.S. slaves in that state who, previously, had no idea about the 13th Amendment--passed by Congress--that abolished slavery.
The name Juneteenth is a combination of June and the 19th. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in June of 2021, but Memphians have celebrated for more than two decades.
Telisa Franklin is President of the Memphis Juneteenth Festival.
“We have been doing Juneteenth in the city of Memphis for 29 years,” Franklin said. “And we’re super excited to be doing it this year, right here in Health Sciences Park.”
This is the second year that park has served as the Juneteenth festival site.
“I been in Memphis all of my life but, I never came to this park, right? Because I think many people of my culture never felt like we were welcome in this park,” Franklin said.
That’s because, up until December of 2017 when it was removed, the park featured a bronze sculpture of Confederate Army General and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest.
2021 was the last year Bedford’s remains, and those of his wife, were also removed from the park, and just a few days later, the 28th Annual Memphis Juneteenth celebration was held there for the first time.
“But, we have literally changed the trajectory of so many peoples’ thought of this park in a negative way,” Franklin explained.
Organizers expect a big crowd at the park for this year’s weekend of events.
“This year, I know we’re gonna have even more, since we made one of the 8 cities, the top cities in the United States that celebrate Juneteenth and they pick right here, Memphis Juneteenth,” Franklin said.
There’ll be good food, vendors from around the world and musical performances to feed your soul, along with a Juneteenth Outdoor Museum, “... because it is imperative to me that you know why we are celebrating,” expressed Franklin.
There will also be a 2.5 mile walk/run. Why 2.5 miles? Because it took 2.5 years from the time the 113th Amendment was passed for the slaves in Galveston to even know they were free.
“Juneteenth means freedom and we’re free to celebrate together,” Franklin added.
Admission to the 29th annual Memphis Juneteenth Festival is free, from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
You can park and shuttle to the festival at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church or use the Southwest Community College parking garage.
For more information about the festival or other Juneteenth events, click here.
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