A host of people marched down Walker Avenue, waving banners, carrying flags, pumping music and cheering. It was a bright, warm Saturday morning on June 18, and the Carbondale community had come out to celebrate the newly federally-recognized holiday of Juneteenth.
The African American Museum of Southern Illinois (AAMSI) coordinated the parade to commemorate the holiday. Starting at the intersection of Jackson Street and Washington Avenue near Tres Hombres, the crowd marched to the Attucks Park Pavilion for a day of music, festivities and celebration.
Juneteenth is the combined name for June 19, the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger marched into Texas and announced to the last enslaved African Americans in the US that they were, from that point forward, free.
While the holiday has been practiced on the state-level in a number of states from as early as the 1980s, this year marks the first time Juneteenth is recognized as a federal holiday. President Joe Biden signed into it law with the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in June 2021.
At the front of the crowd marched Joshua and Daphkar Garrett, carrying an American flag and the official Juneteenth flag, respectively. According to the duo, they volunteer for AAMSI on a regular basis. Joshua Garrett in particular said he feels the holiday has been a long time coming, and education and awareness are important.
“[It’s] about time,” he said. “Awareness and education is always the best way to understand things that you don’t understand. So if you don’t understand Juneteenth, or you don’t understand why so many of us are happy about it, then come on down. Stop on by, check us out, and we will help you understand.”
Akiaya Thomas, a member of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, said she felt it was important to publicly demonstrate in commemoration of the holiday and emphasize its impact on children in the African-American community.
“I think that it is very important,” Thomas said. “I’m not saying that they are the only target, but I specifically work with kids. I feel like being a positive role model to kids, especially out in this community, is very important. Being out here and being very present in the community, I just hope that I can reach out to those kiddos and be like ‘Hey, I’m from here, but I made it out. You can do it too. Do not feel like you are stuck.’”
Carl Flowers, an older community member who came out to march in the parade, expressed his personal connection to the holiday.
“For Carbondale, it’s important for the community to come together to understand the importance of why the slaves were free and how long it took,” Flowers said. “To me, it means that my ancestors were able to survive and to do what they had to do to become free basically, because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. So for me, it’s personal.”
Corene McDaniel, who co-founded AAMSI in 1997, said she and the museum she helped establish have been celebrating Juneteenth for more than 20 years. She said she was enthusiastic when she heard the holiday was officially federalized last year.
“[I was] very, very excited,” McDaniel said, “because finally, somebody has taken note of the journey and the history of all of these slaves that were brought to this country unwillingly, and to know that there is some significance to that. So we are very pleased.”
McDaniel said she hopes, in the midst of the holiday, people will contemplate the history it represents.
“I hope people will remember that even though this is considered a legal holiday, that people will take the time and celebrate and think about their grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents – people that they know made that journey and who were given freedom.”
For more information on the African American Museum of Southern Illinois, you can visit their website here.
Staff reporter Ethan Braun can be reached at [email protected].
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