African Americans in Chicago look back, move ahead


Spotlight - June 2006 It’s about families. It’s about barbecue, more food than you can eat and wearing your Sunday best. It’s also about education, self-improvement and reflection because the Juneteenth holiday is about freedom.

"You get to know and celebrate the real date that blacks were free," says Rachel Jordan, 14, of Englewood. "They block off the street and have a march and people come and speak and say poems from around the neighborhood."

Juneteenth has been around for 141 years—ever since June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the Civil War had ended and all slaves were free.

His arrival—more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation—was the first real taste of freedom for the slaves in Texas.

But if you haven’t heard about the holiday, you’re not alone.

"It wasn’t until 1996 that I even heard about Juneteenth," says Pamela Dominguez, an Englewood community organizer and grandmother to Rachel and 16-year-old Ariana Jordan.

The girls help Dominguez plan the Englewood festivities, which will last from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 17 at 832 W. 68th St. Activities will include a play, a parade, vendors, a barbecue, dance performances, games and activities for kids.

"I made it my mission to share with everyone I knew every opportunity I got," says Dominguez.

"It’s important to the black community to understand that emancipation didn’t come to everyone at the same time in 1863," says Dr. Stephanie Davenport, director of educational services at the DuSable Museum of African American History. "What we want to do is show the integral part of black history in American history."

The celebrations are not limited to community gatherings. In fact, Jean Carter Hill will be bringing 30 Englewood children to the Chicago Children’s Museum’s Juneteenth event from 5-8 p.m. June 15.

Hill is executive director of Imagine Englewood If, a non-profit organization that works to develop and establish community links, enable residents to improve their quality of life and strengthen families.

At the museum, author Glennette Tilly Turner, who has written books about the Underground Railroad, will talk about Chicago’s role in the movement. She recommends the free program for children and families of every race.

"It gives an appreciation to children across the city for this holiday that may not be well known," Turner says. "So many of the characteristics of Juneteenth, like the importance of family and knowing ones family history, are not limited to African Americans. Every kid can see how it relates to their lives."

In addition to Turner’s presentation, the museum will help children understand the Underground Railroad by re-creating the experience. Costumed volunteers posing as slave owners will chase kids from station to station. There will also be crafts and a genealogist to help families trace their roots.

Other Chicago Juneteenth celebrations include a parade sponsored by the Coalition for Improved Education in South Shore, the Chicago Park District and several city aldermen. The parade begins at 10 a.m. June 17 and marches along East 79th Street from Stony Island Avenue to South Shore Drive.

The parade, with an Underground Railroad theme, ends at Rainbow Park and Beach, where there will be a presentation by Turner and a health fair including dental check-ups for kids and car seat safety checks.

Food and art will be sold and there will be a battle of the bands contest for high school groups. Call (773) 684-6070 for more information.

The DuSable Museum also hosts an annual program from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. June 17.

The celebration, which includes a storyteller, kids’ activities and a film, is free with museum admission.

All of the events are geared to teach children.

"If we don’t know where we’ve been, we don’t know where we’re going," says Dominguez.

"Every other ethnic group here celebrates who they are and where they came from. [Slavery] was not our beginning that was part of our journey. We have to go back to find out what brought us to that place, good or bad."

Anne Halliday

Kids Eat Chicago

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