A scene from the musical that helped kick off the 29th Annual Memphis Juneteenth Festival. (Courtesy photo)

The 29th Annual Memphis Juneteenth Festival is one of eight named “top celebration spots in the nation.”

Memphis Juneteenth President Telisa Franklin is elated, calling 2022, “the year Juneteenth grew up.”

Telisa Franklin (Courtesy photo)

“This was such an honor to win this recognition,” said Franklin. “My vision has always been for more than just a day. …

“This is the celebration of our freedom in this country. This is our festival. We came of age this year. We grew up.”

The expanded schedule of events landed Memphis on the Matador Network’s eight leading destinations list of Juneteenth celebrations. Matador Network is a widely popular travel site that promotes “diversity and humanity through travel as a transformative experience.”

Memphis shares their prestigious designation with such iconic Juneteenth landmarks as Galveston and Houston, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; Washington D.C., and Atlanta.

“The “Bluff City” has been hosting an annual Juneteenth event for nearly 30 years. This year, the Memphis Juneteenth Festival will host a Freedom 2.5 Walk Run, a Greek Step Show, a musical, a car show, and a community baby shower.

Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, which is located in a former safe house along the Underground Railroad, hosts an annual Juneteenth celebration that features spoken word, African music, and drumming, and libations to the Ancestors.

“Culture. Freedom. Love” is the maxim of Memphis’ local incarnation of the national holiday. 

Around this adage, Franklin designed a “real festival,” not just a sprinkling of events here and there.

“The planning of each event was meticulous and intentional,” said Franklin. “Each one represents some aspect of our culture and community. This is the celebration of us, a festival like Africa in April and Memphis in May. We are a city of festivals.”

Two inaugural events kicked off Juneteenth, a community baby shower and a musical.

“Black mothers and the healthy birth of Black children” were lifted up during the Community Baby Shower. (Courtesy photo)

“We opened with the Community Baby Shower on June 5,” said Franklin. “We lift up Black mothers and the healthy birth of Black children. The child mortality rate in Memphis only a few years ago was that of a third-world country. Mothers and children are the heart of our community.”

Women well received the baby shower, according to Franklin. But “Juneteenth The Musical” thrilled theater lovers and children of all ages. It premiered on June 10, at Pursuit of God Transformation Center in Frayser.

“I thought it would be great to have the Juneteenth story dramatized on stage,” said Franklin. “So, I called Chrysti Chandler, director of the Young Actors Guild, and asked if she would write and direct ‘Juneteenth The Musical.’”

Chandler was pleased with the play’s two performances on June 10.

“I was so excited about writing and directing ‘Juneteenth The Musical,’ said Chandler. “I researched to discover the truth about why freedom in Texas came so late, on June 19, 1865. I brought in singers, Rooted Souls of Hernando, Mississippi. They already had the dialect down. The play’s reception was tremendous. This is just the beginning.”

Franklin said her team has lofty expectations for upcoming events scheduled this weekend. 

Saturday (June 18) is filled with several big, don’t-miss events, as Juneteenth opens at Health Sciences Park downtown at Madison Avenue. and South Dunlap St., formerly Nathan Bedford Forrest Park.

“The park will open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., both days,” said Franklin. “Vendors will be everywhere, and everyone is welcome on both days. Sunday (June 19) is the culmination. Planning has been such a joyous time. It is so exciting to see everything play out.”

The Freedom 2.5 Mile Run/Walk starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday in Health Sciences Park. A Car Show, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., is also set in the park. At 6 p.m., the park with ignite with a friendly rivalry with Juneteenth’s Greek Step Show.

Additional details and a full schedule of events is available on the Memphis Juneteenth Festival website: www.juneteenthfreedommemphis.com.

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