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Juneteenth Reminder: 'It's Not An African American Holiday, It's An American Holiday'

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Courtesy of Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival
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The Charles Fold Singers tape their 2021 Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival performance at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center.

While many communities, organizations, politicians and the corporate world are beginning to embrace the Juneteenth holiday, Cincinnati's Juneteenth festival has been going strong since 1988.

"One of our big things has always been that Juneteenth is an American holiday. It's a part of America's history," says Lydia Morgan, chairperson of Juneteenth Cincinnati, Inc. "It's not just an African American holiday, It's an American holiday. African Americans didn't have slavery, America had slavery."

Juneteenth is marked on June 19, the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galvaston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and President Abraham Lincoln had freed enslaved peoples more than two years prior with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival is virtual again this year. Morgan explains that decision was made, and preparations were underway, before COVID-19 restrictions were eased. The festival includes two one-hour concerts that will air online and on access television. They'll also be broadcast from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fox 19 June 20.

While performers provided their own recordings in 2020, Juneteenth organizers produced this year's concert videos with help from the Kennedy Heights Arts Center. Performances include the Grammy Award winning Charles Fold Singers, Zapp Anthology, Jazz Renaissance and more.

Juneteenth Teach-In

There's a lot of misinformation and confusion about the history of Juneteenth, says Rodney Coates, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Global and Intercultural Studies at Miami University. He's presenting a recorded "teach-in" on Friday, June 18, followed by a live question and answer session.

"We have a lot of misperceptions about our history, and it's not just one history but there are multiple histories and we need to tell all of these stories," he add. "This is a set of stories that we tended to ignore."

He, too, points out Juneteenth is part of this country's collective history.

"We keep stumbling it seems over the same racial fault lines, every year, every couple of years, every generation, and keep saying 'Wow, (I) didn't know that.' Part of the issue is that these things have been around for a while. Classic case-in-point: the current concerns about voting and restrictions on that. We've been here before. We were here in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act of '65 and then there was the voters rights acts of 1865 and 1870."

These events, he notes, have some of their origins in the events and time period surrounding Juneteenth and the Civil War "and all of our frustrated angst about that."

The teach-in is at 2 p.m. The Q&A session is from 3:15 to 4 p.m. Details and registration information are available here.

Raising The Flag

A Juneteenth flag was raised June 1 in Eden Park at the Cincinnati Parks Administration Office by the new Art Climb. It's flying all month. Flag raisings are also planned for June 17 at the Todd B. Portune Center for County Government downtown at 11 a.m., and June 18 at 10 a.m. at Cincinnati City Hall.