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Juneteenth celebrations set for Douglass and the Medical District

Memphians will be able to celebrate the nation’s newest federal holiday, Juneteenth, with major events in the Douglass community and in the Medical District.

The Juneteenth Douglass Freedom and Heritage Festival — organized by Kathy Yancey-Temple — is June 17-19 in Douglass Park at Mount Olive Road and Ash Street. 

The 29th Annual Memphis Juneteenth Festival spearheaded by Telisa Franklin is June 18-19 in Health Sciences Park at Union Avenue and North Dunlap Street.

Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans. On that day in 1865, Union soldiers led by Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in the coastal city of Galveston, Texas, to deliver General Order No. 3, officially ending slavery in the state

The final act of liberation came months after the Confederate army’s surrender ended the Civil War, and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

President Joe Biden last year signed a bill establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

For many African Americans June 19 represents the Black Independence Day, but for the Douglass Park neighborhood, the Juneteenth holiday has matured into a multi-day celebration that has anchored a community.

Kathy Yancey-Temple

“It’s everything we have,” said Kathy Yancey-Temple, organizer of the Juneteenth Douglass Freedom and Heritage Festival.

Now in its 29th year, the festival’s humble roots began when Yancey-Temple’s late aunt, Glynn Johns Reed, a former model and New Orleans-based magazine publisher, was researching surprise party ideas for a fellow churchgoer.

“A big history buff, she wanted to find a historical fact that happened on that church member’s birthday. That’s when she found Juneteenth. From then on, that birthday party became the Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival,” said Yancey-Temple.

By the next year, the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church officially marked Juneteenth on its events calendar. 

Eventually, three days were set aside, along with a space in Douglass Park. Yancey-Temple has worked to continue her aunt’s legacy since her death in 2014.

In addition to celebrating Juneteenth’s official second year as a national holiday, the heroism of U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War will be recognized.

A Black History mobile museum provided by the Memphis Public Library’s Benjamin Hooks Branch will be supplement the theme.

“We have a lot of ancestors here in Douglass and in North Memphis. A lot of people are related to soldiers that fought at Fort Pillow (which overlooks the Mississippi River) about 45 minutes north of Memphis. Every year, we bring out a different part of our history to educate our people, the education we don’t get in our schools,” said Yancey-Temple.

Fought on April 12, 1864, hundreds of Union soldiers, many of them former slaves, were massacred after they attempted to surrender following the siege of the Union-controlled fort. Historians believe the slaughter was retribution for the Union’s use of Black soldiers. 

Black culture will also be prominent in the festivities. 

In addition to music and spoken-word poetry, a fashion show, featuring fabrics printed in Africa, also will touch on how they influence today’s styles.

There also is an art contest. The winner will receive $500 from the nonprofit Center for Transforming Communities. The other entries will be auctioned off at the Douglass Park Community Center.

Food and vendors also will be on hand at the free event, which kicks off on a Friday. More information can be found at: www.facebook.com/juneteenthdouglass/.

At last year’s Juneteenth Urban Music Festival, Telisa Franklin, the event’s organizer, talked to the crowd as she introduced attorney Van Turner Jr., director/president of Memphis Greenspace and a Shelby County Commissioner. (Photo: Shirley Jackson/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

The 29th Annual Memphis Juneteenth Festival (June 18-19), whose roots also extend back to Reed, is themed Culture, Freedom, Love. It will feature a host of activities, including live music, a walk/run, car show, Greek step show, vendors and a Path of Knowledge Museum.

For a full schedule of events go to: https://www.juneteenthfreedommemphis.com/.

(This story reflects a report by James Coleman.)

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