By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN — The Memphis Juneteenth Festival is building momentum in the Bluff City and solidifying its brand as a major freedom and cultural festival for African Americans.
The festival was boosted last year after Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of the Juneteenth Movement,” visited Memphis, and after President Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17, 2021.
Telisa Franklin, Juneteenth’s president, noticed an uptick in interest and participation from supporters and revelers in Memphis now that Juneteenth is being observed as a federal holiday, one of 11 in the U.S., commemorating June 19, 1865.
“The work was put in 29 years ago when Juneteenth was first launched in Memphis,” said Franklin, who has led the festival for 10 of those years after the founder, the late Glynn Johns Reed, tapped Franklin to take the reins of leadership.
“Since then, it’s been an arduous journey, but we kept educating people and building the brand to what it has become today,” she said. “It’s a labor of love and we’re still here celebrating our freedom.”
The Juneteenth celebration has expanded throughout the month of June with “Juneteenth: The Musical Stage Play,” slated June 10, 7 p.m., at The Pursuit of God Church, 3759 North Watkins. Tickets: $10 per person.
Chrysti Chandler is the artistic director. Ricky Floyd is the host pastor.
“Juneteenth: The Movie,” the first for the organization, will be showing at 7 p.m., June 15, at The Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Memphis.
A Community Baby Shower kicked off the schedule of events Sunday, June 5 at The Kent Memphis, located in the Historic Snuff District in Memphis. Attendees were privy to information on health and wellness for mothers and babies, breastfeeding, and free baby essentials. Lunch was served as well.
This year’s festival again takes place Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 18, and Sunday, June 19, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day at Health Sciences Park at 26 South Dunlap St. at the intersection of Madison Avenue in the Medical District.
The festival is free to the public.
On June 18, a youth showcase commences with high-stepping majorettes, drummers, dancers, and cheerleaders strutting their stuff – all in the name of Juneteenth.
The day begins with a roster of singers and entertainers and ends with them. Look for the headliners whose artistry varies from rhythm and blues to gospel, from hip-hop to soul, and jazz too.
The list includes Keith Washington, Queen Ann Hines, Stacey Merino, Marquee of Soul, Men At Large, Mr. Sam, Joshua Rogers, and young talents such as local R&B singers Luvia Gwin and Cortney Boyland, also known as Cortney B.
Music is germane, of course, so is the food. Both are integral to the Juneteenth experience, including the relaxed ambiance of the park setting, Franklin said, where revelers congregate for fun, excitement, culture, and freedom, all to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
“We will have lots of food vendors and a marketplace for participants to shop for garments, jewelry, artwork, Juneteenth memorabilia, and more,” Franklin said. “There will be live entertainment on two stages and a Juneteenth outdoor museum as well.”
A Juneteenth Car Show will also be on display and revelers can take part in the Juneteenth 2.5 Run/Walk. (Two point five means it took 2 ½ years for slaves to realize they were free – from the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to that day in Galveston, Texas, where the slaves were notified that they were henceforth free.)
Also on that day, a Divine 9 Greek Step Show kicks off at 6 p.m. The high-stepping, high-energy routine performed by fraternities and sororities is the first for Juneteenth. Their display of handclapping, foot-stomping and spoken word is an artform and a staple among Greek letter organizations.
The celebration continues June 19 with the Memphis Juneteenth Official Flag Raising Ceremony and loads of entertainment, food and shopping vendors, for the entire family, Franklin said.
“This is the 29th year that Juneteenth is being celebrated in Memphis. And we will continue the cultural festival celebrating our freedom,” Franklin said. “In fact, it’s been 157 years since General Order #3 was delivered on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, announcing the end of slavery.”
For more information, contact Telisa Franklin at (901) 281-6337 or visit the website at www.MemphisJuneteenth.com.