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Juneteenth aside, Black Delawareans say there's a long way to go to be truly free

DelawareOnline.com (Wilmington, DE) logo DelawareOnline.com (Wilmington, DE) 6/16/2021 Andre Lamar, Delaware News Journal
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CORRECTION: In an earlier version of the story the organizers of the Entrepreneurial Expo were misidentified. The organizers are Ashley Morgan and Autumn Jones. Also, the Delaware Juneteenth Association has changed the location for their Juneteenth Caravan event on Saturday. It will now take place at Christina Park in Wilmington.

Juneteenth is supposed to be a celebration of Black people's freedom from slavery. A number of events throughout Delaware will honor this holiday on Saturday. 

But Juneteenth is still clouded by a lack of  transformational progress for Black people, according to those in Delaware asked by the Delaware Online/The News Journal to reflect on the meaning of the holiday. They cite economic injustice and violence against Black people at the hands of law enforcement as two reasons they are not really "free.''

“So we’re just kind of free-ish,” said Brenda Gunter, Delaware Juneteenth Association co-founder.

As Black people grapple with this reality, there will be a number of events for them to bond with others across the state who share this sense of bondage.

Esteemed Bronx rapper KRS-One will headline the new Juneteenth Festival at Rodney Square in Wilmington on Saturday.

KRS-One standing on a stage: Rap icon Krs-One will headline the new Juneteenth Festival at Rodney Square on Saturday. © Nicholas Hunt, Getty Images Rap icon Krs-One will headline the new Juneteenth Festival at Rodney Square on Saturday.

The festival, presented by Wilmington Public Library, also features performances by 10-time-Grammy-winning R&B group Take 6; Wilmington emcee/activist Richard Raw with the Word Warrior band; Wilmington songstress Nadjah Nicole from NBC’s “The Voice”; sizzling Wilmington band Best Kept Soul; and the 17th poet laureates for Delaware, the Twin Poets.  

a person standing on a stage: Wilmington rapper Richard Raw will grace the stage at the inaugural Juneteenth Festival at Rodney Square on Saturday. © Joe del Tufo Wilmington rapper Richard Raw will grace the stage at the inaugural Juneteenth Festival at Rodney Square on Saturday.

An address will be given by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.

Richard Raw, pulling double duty as a rapper and stage manager for the festival, said KRS-One and Public Enemy were big influences on him growing up because they offered conscious rap with educational lyrics.

Raw said the Bronx rapper is on his “Mount Rushmore” of hip-hop.

“I think having KRS-One is meaningful because this is Juneteenth. This is a celebration of what's supposed to be a celebration of our freedom, but we have a long way to go,” he said.

“But I think Juneteenth is a celebration of our rich history. And having an artist that has taught our history throughout the duration of his life, we feel like that's why he's so meaningful for this event.”

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This inaugural Juneteenth Festival is anticipated to be one of this year’s first big events of the summer in Wilmington. 

The Wilmington rapper said his hope is that Black people reeducate themselves on their history and embrace their own culture without having to apologize to white people.

“We need to teach our children, from a Black perspective. We need to walk in the world, from a Black perspective. I don't think there's anything wrong with that,” he said.

“Through the course of time we’ve been made to think being Black means we're inferior,'' Raw continued. "But that isn't the case. We don't have to be like anyone else. We can be exactly who we are.”

While Juneteenth is a cause for celebrating Black culture, the holiday would be more meaningful if Black people were given a redistribution of wealth or reparations, he said.

“Reparations is a necessity,” Raw said. “There has to be a reparations package passed that repairs Black people.”

'What is Juneteenth?'

Black people in Delaware couldn’t celebrate Juneteenth until 1901 because that’s when the Small Wonder ratified the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.

We still need to take a further step back to better understand Juneteenth.

On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger informed a reluctant community in Galveston, Texas, that President Abraham Lincoln freed enslaved people in rebel states two and a half years earlier. He pressed locals to comply with the directive. 

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Although Lincoln proclaimed the emancipation of enslaved people, effective Jan. 1, 1863, enslavers were responsible for telling them that they were free, and some ignored the order until Union troops arrived to enforce it, according to Cliff Robinson, founder of Juneteenth.com. Texas was the last Confederate state to have the proclamation announced.

Though the story of Texas' emancipation is the most widely known, other significant events in the history of emancipation took place on and around that date, said Steve Williams, president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. 

The first known Juneteenth celebrations began in 1866, he said, and spread across the country as African Americans migrated to new cities.

a person posing for a picture: Middletown's Saniya Gay and Delaware Juneteenth Association President Sylvia Lewis-Harris after being crowned National Miss Juneteenth in Memphis, Tennessee in 2020. © Courtesy of Saniya Gay Middletown's Saniya Gay and Delaware Juneteenth Association President Sylvia Lewis-Harris after being crowned National Miss Juneteenth in Memphis, Tennessee in 2020.

The Delaware Juneteenth Association has been celebrating the holiday since the beginning in Delaware. This year marks the 27th anniversary of the organization's founding.

On Saturday, the organization will host a Juneteenth caravan that begins at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, followed by a Juneteenth Observance at Simpson United Methodist Church near Newport.

Last Sunday, the organization held its 24th Miss Juneteenth pageant. Sophia Hughes won the competition.

a woman standing in front of a wedding cake: Sophia Hughes is crowned Miss Juneteenth 2021 on Sunday at the Doubletree hotel in Wilmington Delaware. © Saquan Stimpson, SAQUAN STIMPSON/SPECIAL TO DELAWARE NEWS JOURNAL Sophia Hughes is crowned Miss Juneteenth 2021 on Sunday at the Doubletree hotel in Wilmington Delaware.

“We're not an organization that just popped up all of a sudden,” said Sylvia Harris, co-founder of the Delaware Juneteenth Association. “We had our nose to the grindstone for 20 years, when Juneteenth wasn't popular, when people were looking at us and saying, ‘What is Juneteenth?’”

Last year's protests following the murder of George Floyd by former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin generated a huge uptick in national recognition for Juneteenth, Harris said. 

Gunter, Delaware Juneteenth Association co-founder, thinks the holiday must be marked, even if equality and justice for Black Americans still prove elusive.

America has paid reparations to the Native Americans, Japanese Americans and Guam, she points out. "Why are we not being paid reparations?" she asked. 

Nonetheless, it’s still important to celebrate Juneteenth.

“I always say if you don’t know where you came from then you don’t know where you’re going,” said fellow Juneteenth Association co-founder Sandy Clark. “We’re still not free. But at least we can have a dialogue. We can still bring people to the reality of what we have suffered all these years.”

Black business expo to support future entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs Ashley Morgan and Autumn Jones will host a small-business expo on Saturday in Wilmington to teach aspiring Black business owners how to make extra money.

The pair run a health and wellness business named Women with a Vision. Through the business, they put on empowerment events like Saturday's expo, intended to inspire Black people. This is the first event the pair will host since the pandemic began.

The expo will feature about 25 small businesses selling apparel, Jones said. A barbershop will provide free shape-ups to the community.  Teenage entrepreneurs will offer items such as lip gloss and baked goods.

a group of people sitting in a chair: Autumn Jones (left), of New Castle, and Ashley Morgan, of Philadelphia, are the owners of the health and wellness business Women with a Vision. © Courtesy of Autumn Morgan Autumn Jones (left), of New Castle, and Ashley Morgan, of Philadelphia, are the owners of the health and wellness business Women with a Vision.

“They're going to be explaining to other people how they went into business and what steps it took, and they’ll encourage other people to possibly go into business,” said Jones, of New Castle. “This event is basically going to let them tell their story.”

Morgan said she knows the Black condition in America isn’t perfect. But she feels events like this will help to plant the seeds of change.

“Juneteenth, I believe, is the continuous idea of being free. Of course, there are various areas in which we still feel captive by society,” Morgan, of Philadelphia, said. “But we do have freedoms greater than our ancestors.”

List of Delaware Juneteenth Events 

Thursday, June 17, 7 p.m. — The Hockessin Historical Society is sponsoring a presentation and re-enactment at Hockessin Fire Company - Station 19 (610 Yorklyn Road, Hockessin). Delaware historian Syl Woodford will discuss the Civil War and Juneteenth, while re-enactor Willis Phelps will shed light on a Black soldier who was buried at a gravesite for African Americans near Delaware City. For more information, visit facebook.com/HockessinHistoricalSociety.

Saturday, June 19, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m — Beyond Juneteenth: Egungun Festival at Delaware Art Museum (2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington) will host its second consecutive Juneteenth event in the Copeland Sculpture Garden and Labyrinth. The day begins with a libation followed by a Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony with Baba Hamin El. Nadjah Nicole and Jea Street, Jr. will perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem. Festivities will continue with live performances by the Sankofa African dancers; Ghetto Songbird; Hezekiah; Egungun lle Igoke; Ebony Zuudia; Stiggz Stigalo; Tonantzin Yaotecas Aztec Dancers; Egungun Oloba; Robert Muhammad; and the 2020 winner of the inaugural National Miss Juneteenth Pageant, Saniya Gray. Guests can enjoy vendors and food trucks. There will be kid-friendly arts and crafts stations with Kyma, such as paper drum-making and art therapy with 7God in the Labyrinth and a drum circle. The hosts of the event are Abundancechild, venture culturalist and Ifa priestess; Dr. G, holistic, spiritual and metaphysical life coach; and Rachelle Wilson, founder of the Make Some Intelligent Noise criminal justice and prison reform movement. This Juneteenth event is free. For more information, visit delart.org or call (302) 571-9590.

Saturday, June 19, 10:30 a.m.  — Juneteenth Freedom Caravan will be held at Christina Park (Fourth and Church streets, Wilmington). For more information, visit delawarejuneteenth.org.

Saturday, June 19 from 12 to 6 p.m. — The Juneteenth Festival is a new music affair at Rodney Square (1000 N. Market St., Wilmington) that will feature rap legend KRS-One as the headliner. He'll be joined with artists Take 6; Richard Raw and the Word Warrior band; Nadjah Nicole; Best Kept Soul; and the 17th poet laureates for Delaware, the Twin Poets. Registration is required. To register or for more information, visit wilmington.lib.de.us or call (302) 571-7400.

Saturday, June 19 from 1 to 5 p.m. — Juneteenth Entrepreneurial Expo at Ezion Fair Baptist Church (1400 B. St., Wilmington) will celebrate Blackness with an entrepreneur panel, vendors, DJ, fashion show and more. The event will be hosted by Kevin Turman. A mask is required. Tickets are $12, and the event capacity is 200 people. Tickets can be purchased on Instagram (2Women1Vision). 

Saturday, June 19 from 1 to 6 p.m. — Juneteenth Freedom Day Celebration at The Green (Dover) will feature live entertainment, food, vendors and activities. Bring a chair. For more information, contact threekingsbooking2021@gmail.com.

Saturday, June 19, 2 p.m. — Juneteenth Observance will feature the Rev. Provey Powell Jr., host pastor at Mount Joy United Methodist Church. This event will be held at Simpson United Methodist Church (907 Centreville Road, near Newport). For more information, visit delawarejuneteenth.org.

Saturday, June 19, 7 p.m. —  Neptunes Night: A Juneteenth Celebration at The Queen (500 N. Market St., Wilmington) will include entry to The Crown and Knight's Bar. Crown Room doors will open promptly at 7 p.m., and patrons will be welcomed by locally owned business vendors and a DJ spinning hits from the Neptunes until 9 p.m. Then patrons will enjoy a live band performance by The Stimmy, covering all the hits from the Neptunes. This event is intended to celebrate and bring awareness to the importance of Juneteenth. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $17.50 per person for a table of six or $20 per person for a table of two. For more information, visit thequeenwilmington.com or call (302) 400-7020.

Sunday, June 27, 5 p.m. — Fourth annual Freedom Gala will be held at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Downtown Wilmington (700 N. King St., Wilmington). For more information, visit delawarejuneteenth.org.

Andre Lamar is the features/lifestyle reporter. If you have an interesting story idea, email Andre Lamar at alamar@gannett.com

USA Today reporter N'dea Yancey-Bragg contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Juneteenth aside, Black Delawareans say there's a long way to go to be truly free

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