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Photo essay: Minneapolis celebrates Juneteenth

This week Minnesotans marked Juneteenth with numerous celebrations, from movie screenings to pageants, block parties to BBQs. Juneteenth memorializes the day in 1865 when the last enslaved African Americans of Galveston, Texas were able to actualize the freedom guaranteed to them by the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed two years earlier. The holiday is an opportunity to remember our history, celebrate freedom, and as musician LA Buckner put it, “to be as Black as you want to be.”

Six people sit on chairs on a stage as part of a panel discussion. One man rests his head on his hand. They appear deep in thought, as though listening to an audience question.
From left to right: drummer William “Truth Maze” Harris, vocalist Jamela Pettiford, drummer LA Buckner, vocalist Imani Harris, Ralph L. Crowder III (director) and his grandson who played trumpet.

Celebrations got an early start. On Friday, June 14 a beautiful silent film was accompanied by live music at Bethune Performing Arts Center in North Minneapolis. “The Lost Negroes of North America,” directed by independent journalist Ralph L. Crowder III, showcases footage of African American families in Minneapolis between 1945 and 1955, an often overlooked period of prosperity.

Crowder and the musicians engaged with the audience in conversation leading up to the movie, discussing the artists lives as well as the history and current atmosphere of Juneteenth. “Watching Juneteenth grow over the years has been very interesting, especially now. It started from the community but it seems like it's owned by corporate American and state entities at this point,” said Crowder. He noted that while recognition of the holiday at the federal and state levels were historic, sponsorships and the presence of political lobbying at events has increased. “Juneteenth used to be something that was more community, where people did it for the love, not necessarily for the money… It’s interesting how when it seems like we have more money, we might attract more problems.” 

After the film the audience was full of praise for the narrative of hope that both the film and music embodied.

Four drummers are gathered in a loose circle, all playing diferent types of drums and wearing blue t-shirts. A man takes a photograph of them, and numerous vendor tents can be seen in the background.
The Brooklyn Park Lions Drum and Dance Corps showed out despite the rain on Saturday, much to the enjoyment of the crowd. Bethune Park and Phyllis Wheatley Community Center have a long history of fostering musical talent in youth; Prince got his start in music in Phyllis Wheatley’s back when it was home to a music school.

Back at Bethune park Saturday was the Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom Event. Friends and families enjoyed the number of food trucks such as B and B BBQ in the parking lot, free hair cuts were offered inside by Reflections Barbershop owner Zachary Smith Sr. and Silas Means. A large stage overlooked the field's numerous tents of local artisans, organizations, community resources, and politicians, in addition to a bouncy slide and other entertainment for youth. The feeling of community couldn’t be washed away by Saturday's rain.

A woman stands at the Ms Bevs Barbecue tent to make a purchase. The tables are covered in red tablecloths, and a woman monitors the barbecue in the background.
The 25 year old business Ms. Bevs Barbeque served hot and delicious corn, turkey legs, hot dogs, wings, and more at Bethune Park on Saturday. Owner Beverly Killebrew (not pictured) is a full time chef and has been serving the unhoused community at the Mary F. Frey Minneapolis Opportunity Center for 13 years.

A man stands inside a blue trailer that also serves as a juice bar. His business partner stands outside the trailer, and leans on the counter. The words "Life Juices: Super Food Bar" is displayed prominently on the trailer.
Life Juice founders Momolu Cooke (left) and Kali Terry (right) showed the community love by handing out and selling their plant based juices at Bethune Park on Saturday. “To be part of Juneteenth and to participate in economics, that's the main thing our community needs,” Terry explained. After five years of farmers markets, “it’s a blessing every day” to Cooke. The grand opening of Life Juice’s brick and mortar location on University and Lexington is set for July 13th.

Three women lean in together to pose for a photo. They are seated at a vendor table, with drinks and tickets. A young boy sits in the background, watching.
Pictured left to right: Allexia, Erin, and Zaniah representing the House of Refuge Church of God in Christ. The church was selling an assortment of barbequed food and drinks to attendees of the Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom Event at Bethune on Saturday. Juneteenth is a time for “celebrating our history and culture,” said Zaniah. Allexia expressed they were at the celebration “for love and the community.”

A crowd of people mingle on the street.
On Wednesday, June 19, hundreds gathered at Minnehaha and Lake Street for Soul of the Southside, a block party style celebration hosted by the Legacy Building with food trucks, local artisans, live music, and more. Families, friends, and dog walkers enjoyed the sunshine during the otherwise overcast week, coming together to celebrate the 159th Juneteenth.

A man and a woman smile as they stand in front of microphones on a stage. A drummer and a guitarist can be partially seen in the background. They are all wearing matching t-shirts.
Husband and wife hip-hop duo iLLism performed on stage at the Hook and Ladder Theatre and Lounge for Soul of the Southside on Wednesday. The couple, both originally from Minneapolis, were accompanied by live drums and guitar on stage as people danced.

Two young women wearing "Memorialize the Movement" t-shirts stand in front of a mural.
Sisters Moriah (left) and Amira (right) pose in front of the community mural they constructed with Memorialize the Movement, an organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, and displaying public artworks from Minneapolis circa 2020. Attendees at Soul of the Southside were free to decorate the piece, which grew progressively more colorful as the day went on.

People stand on a makeshift platform, looking at art and creating their own.
In the middle of a local Black business popup market was this public artwork, which invited people to etch their names, messages, or art into plexiglass laid over glass blocks. This piece, titled “(re)Building on Lake,'' was created in the past few years by Tynan “Ty” Pratumwon (in “staff” shirt) and artists Dio, Matthew “NurDRocks'' Allen, and Sean Garrison with the support of the Longfellow Community Council and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.

A view through a thin glass brick wall. On the other side, people are etching their own messages into the surface.
The community based piece showcased four pieces of art, seen in each corner, representing “individual experiences of the [2020] uprisings” according to Pratumwon. Inspired by positive community action amidst the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, Pratumwon believes “it proved the love we have for each other and the city.”

A woman stands behind a vendor table, which is covered with a variety of bottles and jars.
Ciara Wilson, founder and CEO of Ciara Custom Collection pictured with her array of handmade health and wellbeing products including chemical free soaps, lotions, candles, and more. Open for over two years now, Ciara takes pride in “having high end products at an affordable price,” something she says isn't always easy for customers to find. It was a long day for Wilson as she attended celebrations in Edina before the Soul of the Southside, but she said business was great; “Will I do this again? Yes!”

A woman wearing big rainbow earrings stands at a tent, surrounded by potted plants.
Shontay Evans does it all; selling plants, seeds, dog sitting, snow removal, landscaping, and more. Owner of Tay’s Secret Garden, Evans is a dedicated business owner, “I’ve worked every day, every day for the past six years,” she said as customers stopped by to see her variety of plants. Out of the seventy something plants she started the day with, only nine were left. “I’m forever grateful for the people and sponsors who put this on.”

A woman with long braids and wearing a bright yellow shirt stands next to a table covered with purple cloth.  With her left hand she holds a bamboo plant on the table.
“Find something you’ll love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is the quote Zachina Harps, owner and founder of Aura’s Journey to Self Healing, lives by. In her second year of vending and attending Soul of the Southside, her goal is to “spread love and positive energy through connecting with people.” She believes plants are a lot like us, so make sure to give yourself the sunshine and water you need!

More events are scheduled for this weekend, including Kumbayah: The Juneteenth Story, a play hosted by the Minnesota Humanities Center and Northrop in collaboration with Sweet Potato Comfort Pie and the Liberal Arts Engagement Club, among others.

Despite abolition and the federal holiday, slavery is still practiced in the United States. The thirteenth amendment of the U.S. constitution states that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." According to the ACLU this loophole allows prisons to force incarcerated people to work for nothing or next to nothing, or face punishment. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security reports that migrants are often “forced to work through deception, coercion, and abuse of legal processes.” According to the Walk Free Global Slavery Index, an estimated 1.1 million people are enslaved in the United States.

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