Originally published in The Pulse

A collaboration of Chattanooga community and culture

I am disappointed in myself that I did not know that Juneteenth, which is this coming Tuesday, is an American holiday to commemorate the day slavery was abolished in Texas in 1865 and the day the last slaves were emancipated from the Confederacy.

I remember the Emancipation Proclamation but I do not recall this mid-summer day being discussed either in high school or college history courses.

Also referred to as Freedom Day or Juneteenth Independence day, annual Juneteenth festivals are held all over the states, especially recognized in the southern areas like Louisiana, Georgia and now in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The Past

Although different cultures are involved in diversifying the festivals, most Juneteenth festivals have some common inclusions such as Emancipation Proclamation readings and readings from the works of noted African American authors such as Maya Angelou as well as local celebrated African American authors or poets.

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1862, but with the simpler lines of communication consisting of horseback, it took several years for all the states to get the orders and Juneteenth is a moment in history when the United States were finally all on the same page.

With the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement, there were moments where Juneteenth did not receive the commemoration it deserved. It was not until a hundred years later in 1968, with the Poor People’s Campaign, a march to D.C. organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy that Juneteenth regained its national recognition and cities began to annually rejoice.

Appropriately, Texas was the first state to legally declare Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980. Since then 46 states and the District of Columbia recognize the holiday leaving Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota that do not. In 2018, Apple added Juneteenth to its holiday calendar and The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation are continuously working on getting Congressional approval to designate June 19th as a national day of observance.

Juneteenth.com does have an immense amount of information regarding how to celebrate as well as what cities are doing what. As Texas was the founding place of this historic happening, Houston and Austin have hosted huge block parties for decades.

Although many states like New York boast that they host “The largest Juneteenth celebration in the country,” Missouri City, Texas has hosted a weekend-long event for the past fifteen years and it continues to grow with a scholarship golf tournament that has raised $140,000 to date.

As Chattanooga has not yet had a declared Juneteenth festival to commemorate this historical accomplishment, festival founder and Yale graduate Ricardo Morris created the six day long Chattanooga Festival of Black Arts & Ideas to “spotlight emerging and established black artists and build greater community awareness of the diversity of black arts within Chattanooga and Hamilton County.”

The Present

Ricardo Morris has dedicated his life to working in the arts so building this nonprofit African American historic arts festival came naturally. With a gamut of artist experience, including but not limited to creating the Chattanooga CultureFest almost nineteen years ago, Morris is more than excited to begin another culturally diverse first for Chattanooga.

The majority of the events occur at The Chattanooga Theatre Centre (CTC) however, the cultural reach expands for miles and generations. The festival kicks off this Thursday at 6 p.m. with a staged reading of “Don’t Suffer In Silence” from Chattanooga playwright Charles Patterson followed by a panel discussion with Patterson, cast members and other theatre professionals.

Friday night could be considered a Film Night Friday with a 6pm screening of the 2018 Inspired Faith Film Festival Best Short Film Award “Michael Valentine” by Live To Inspire Productions. Owner of Live To Inspire Productions, Shelia Wofford also acts, writes, directs and produces and will be available after the showing for a panel discussion focused on the film industry in Nashville and Atlanta.

Saturday is one of the longer days with activities and music going from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. all at The Chattanooga Theatre Centre. You are encouraged to bring your lawn chair, blankets and get cozy to hang out all day as there will be not only music, but local art and food vendors as well as adult beverages for sale. Located in the heart of Northshore, there will be so much to stimulate the senses, all ages will find something that is music to their ears.

The Black Music Month Celebration on Saturday will start at 11:30 a.m. on the CTC lawn with a drumming circle lead by Kofi Mawuko, and it is open to the public so bring your drum and join in! Mawuko will then perform with his Ogya World Music Band.

The beat goes on when Classical artists, violinist Tramaine Jones and cellist Spencer Brewer take the stage. Jones plays with several orchestras and has played with Maxwell, The Temptations and John Legend. Cellist Spencer Brewer, who is a member of the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra while currently teaching and producing in Atlanta, loves coming back to Chattanooga to perform.

Other featured established artists include Thomas “Tee” Bumpass playing the Blues, Hip Hop Fusion with Seaux Chill, Pop performances by Young, Gifted and Black, and mellowing out the evening around 6:45 p.m., will be Jazz with Dexter Bell & Friends.

At 9 p.m., venture in to the CTC for “Rhymez, Reasonz & Scribez,” with Poetic Kama Sutra that weaves spoken word, dance and music for an incredible open mic experience. To create a collaboration of community togetherness and wrap up the wonderful day of music, CFBAI and CTC has offered their lawn to view the end of Riverbend fireworks at 11 o’clock.

Incorporated with Father’s Day, the CFBAI continues at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday with a “Black Dads Matter” picnic that includes a Gospel concert as well as a clergy panel discussion regarding faith being intertwined to help progress development within the Black community. The Gospel concert will feature Enoushall M. Kilgore, Courtney D. Slocum, 3 Dreamers and Trent Williams. Food trucks will be on site but you are more than welcome to bring your own picnic items.

Not far from the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, visual artist and educator Charlie Newton is the residing artist at the Association for Visual Arts (AVA) until June 22nd. Extremely well known, Newton’s work can be seen at The Hunter Museum as well as in public and private collections all over the world.

On Monday, Newton will host a 6 p.m. viewing of his collection, “Let Freedom Ring,” including his in-process piece “The Lamentation of Ed Johnson” that depicts a historical event that occurred on the Walnut Street Bridge in 1906. This showcase will be followed by a 7 o’clock panel where Newton will be available for discussion.

The CFBAI Juneteenth Commemoration will conclude on Tuesday, June 19th on the steps of City Hall. The closing ceremony will begin with a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by educator, actor and playwright LaFrederick Thirkill.

Currently serving as the Orchard Knob Elementary principal, Thirkill was recently named a recipient of the Thurgood Marshall Award by the local chapter of the NAACP and the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award by the Urban League of Chattanooga for his efforts to address racial reconciliation, Mayor Andy Berke will then proclaim June 14th through June 19th, “a celebration of Chattanooga Black Arts and Ideas in remembrance of Juneteenth” then internationally recognized Chattanooga educator, composer and conductor Dr. Roland M. Carter will close the ceremony with the Negro National Anthem, “Let Every Voice and Sing.”

For an even more detailed description of Juneteenth history, Black Art events or artists’ profiles, check out Blackartsandideasfest.com or scroll through their Facebook page to find out about local artists in general or other Black art events occurring in Tennessee.

The Future

Although this is called the Chattanooga Festival of Black Arts & Ideas, it is open for everyone to attend.

“Art is universal,” says Morris, “The subject matter can appeal to all. This celebration will allow other ethnicities to better understand and embrace the concept that, while these works of art may be created by Black people and reflective of the Black condition, they more importantly speak to the human condition in ways that only the arts can do.”

Raising awareness of other cultures, providing opportunities for increasing one’s quality of life and creating community togetherness through art is a simple yet extremely powerful concept and should happen more than once a year. With the CFBAI expanding over five days, there is no reason to miss one iota.

If by chance, you are unable to attend any of the CFBAI, take a moment to recognize and commemorate Juneteenth then continue to be proactive in broadening your understanding of your neighborhood, your neighbor and the black community.