White, a day-to-day bank employee and a self-described advocate whose son helped push Hamilton City Council to recognize Juneteenth, said it was touching for Hamilton to get ahead of the curve.
“Now, you have all these cities, townships, [and] states that are jumping on board because now this is a federal holiday,” White said. “But we were kind of getting this rocking and rolling before that even took place.”
General interest in Juneteenth across the country has spiked dramatically each June over the past two years as the celebrations and conversations have moved northward and reached new audiences.
“It’s huge in the South,” White said. “For me, I’ve always heard about Juneteenth, but even [some] African Americans haven’t heard of Juneteenth, or even know what it is.”
White believes commemorating the occasion can be as simple as coming together over some traditional southern barbecue and recognizing the successes of black and other minority communities.
Large celebrations, then, act as a chance for people to learn more about the holiday, learn more about black culture, and recognize the progress of racial equality and advocate further, according to White.
The inaugural event was hosted near Riverview Elementary School at the Booker T. Washington Community Center and received positive community response.
“You didn’t see just people from the community there,” White said. “You seen people from the city — from all over — at the Juneteenth celebration last year.”
White estimated that there were at least 300 people in a constant flow of foot-traffic in the park, and this year’s move to a larger venue will allow even more people to partake.
“I fully believe that people walked away having a better understanding of, ‘What is Juneteenth?’ White said. “This event has sparked a lot of buzz throughout the City of Hamilton. It is doing exactly what I wished and anticipated for it to do.”
White said this celebration will be open to everyone, including those living nearby whose community might not be putting on an event.
“It would be very nice to see others from our surrounding townships and cities visit Hamilton to not only see what’s happening downtown, but to get a taste of the culture that’s here,” White said. “It’s open to all neighboring towns, cities, townships, [and] villages to come and join.”
In Middletown, Lakeisha Thomas is preparing a three-day celebration from Friday to Sunday at Douglass Park for the city’s second annual Juneteenth event. Thomas expects twice as many visitors this year.
The city’s celebration will include standard festivities, but also will have a particular focus on cultural education and outreach to the under-privileged. This outreach includes a mobile free-store through Thomas’ Key Better Days Society, as well as a free mobile clinic through Premier Health offering free screenings on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Thomas, who hadn’t heard of Juneteenth until she moved to North Carolina, said she was excited to bring the celebrations to Ohio when she moved back home.
“We’re really just looking forward to putting on this amazing celebration for the Middletown community,” Thomas said.
Rodney Coates, a Professor of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at Miami University, emphasized that Juneteenth is a deeply layered commemoration and its scope predates the 1865 emancipation and encompasses the time since.
“It’s giving recognition — acknowledgment, if you will — of the path that many blacks started from,” Coates said. Coates’ own family history can be traced back to slaves held in Jackson, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama before emancipation.
Coates said that while the Emancipation Proclamation did eventually free some 4 million slaves, there were generations of blacks in America before then who are more or less impossible to trace.
“[Juneteenth] is a marker to recognize the generations that came before that we have no names to,” Coates said.
Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee, and has been widely adopted as the official date to celebrate black liberation, according to Coates.
Coates noted that formal emancipation was not an immediate path to liberation, and that black Americans and black communities have had to endure various forms of abuse, including race riots in southwest Ohio or lynchings in Oxford.
“This is a bittersweet celebration,” Coates said. “On one hand recognize how far we’ve come, but also the paths that we have had to take, and lastly that the journey to freedom and justice and equality is yet before us.”
Visit journal-news.com this weekend and next for pictures of Juneteenth activities.