Juneteenth Cincinnati, Inc. is acknowledging the important role of water in enslavement and freedom through a weekend "Wade In The Water" event. Participants dressed in white plan to dance along the banks of the Ohio River Sunday, June 13, symbolizing the journey from enslavement to freedom.
Lydia Morgan, chairperson of the Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival, says organizers thought of several historic ways water has been important. She points to the biblical story of the Red Sea parting for the Israelites fleeing the Egyptians, and the Atlantic Ocean passage of kidnapped Africans who were then trafficked along riverways in North America.
"Then rivers, lakes and swamps because those were some of the obstacles that people had to get through and across and around to get to freedom," she continues. "And the water in the fire hoses that people used to keep people from marching to get their freedom or their rights."
While the event may have a festive feel, Morgan says it's meant more as an acknowledgement than a celebration "because water had positive effects and it also had negative effects. We're just acknowledging that water did play a big role."
David Choate of Revolution Dance Company is choreographing the dancing, which will be set to several versions of the African American jubilee song, Wade in the Water. Harriet Tubman is said to have sung the spiritual while helping enslaved people make their way to safety along the Underground Railroad.
Similar events are planned in California, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia, all using the same choreography, Morgan explains. The events will be filmed and combined into a larger video incorporating historical imagery.
Morgan says several other projects are expected to come out of the event, including a spoken word piece reflecting on how it must have felt to be kidnapped from Africa, imprisoned and taken across the Atlantic Ocean.
Organizers originally planned to dance across the Purple People Bridge but switched to the riverfront in Smale Park because of the bridge's closure. You can find additional information and register to join on the Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival website. The event begins at 3 p.m. and is open to all.
You can watch and learn the choreography in the video below.