Facilitators of local Juneteenth celebrations didn’t allow early rain showers Saturday to put a damper on the holiday that observes the end of chattel slavery in the United States.
Rain caused only a brief delay for Sabayet Community Outreach Center’s annual celebration in The Ville neighborhood. Delmar Loop East moved its celebration from Delmar Boulevard and Hamilton Avenue in the Delmar Loop about a half a block west to St. Louis Artworks.
A 1 p.m. start for the Juneteenth Celebration at Fountain Park sponsored by Neighbors of Fountain Park in collaboration with Centennial Christian Church D.O.C. missed the rain and was hit by sunshine.
Sandra Collins, 26, who was just passing by and said she didn’t know what Juneteenth was, brought her daughter to the Fountain Park celebration.
“I didn’t know there was a holiday that celebrates the end of slavery,” Collins said, noting that she would now celebrate the holiday.
Her daughter played in a bounce house for children. Other children participated in a dance contest, in which nurses who had an information booth at the event also participated.
“Our mission is to educate, empower and connect people to resources,” said Clint Potts, president of Neighbors of Fountain Park. “And people especially need to be educated about our history.”
Collins wasn’t alone in her unawareness about the holiday, but like her, those who were enlightened said they too would celebrate it.
Juneteenth hasn’t reached the popularity that many think it deserves. Missouri is one of 43 states that observe the holiday, but it has yet to become a federal or national holiday.
Steve Parish, one of the first organizers of a local Juneteenth celebration at the former Progressive Emporium, said that awareness of the observance must grow. Parish also said he was happy that Sabayet had taken the baton and started their own celebration of Juneteenth.
“We have to recognize it as a great holiday because of our work against oppression as an act of revolution,” Parish said.
“It is a struggle in progress, but we have to make sure it isn’t capitalized by others so we can tell our stories,” he said, adding, “You can’t have a mindset for liberation while listening to your oppressor’s narrative.”
All of the Juneteenth events featured information about Juneteenth, music, entertainment and vendor booths.
Poet David A.N. Jackson deejayed alongside community advocate Thomasina Clarke, who kept the crowd engaged with performances that included African dance, line dancing and a performance by Club CHIPS (a leadership group of teenage rappers mentored by CHIPS Health and Wellness Center; CHIPS stands for the Children’s Health Insurance Program).
Local comedian Eric Rivers kept the crowd going at the Fountain Park celebration. It included a dance contest for children, though adults joined in the dancing.
The Delmar Loop East celebration was started by 30 area black businesses, including West End Neighbors, Skinker-DeBaliviere Community Council, St. Louis Story Stitchers and Pamoja Preparatory Academy. Their event offered drumming, conscious rappers, a band, science projects (including the making of a volcano), storytelling, face painting and Live Freedom (in which nine artists painted Juneteenth-themed renderings for five hours). Left Hand was also hand-printing Juneteenth T-shirts.
Many of the founding businesses had vendor booths at the celebration as a way of circulating money in the community.
“It was in line with Ujamaa (the Kwazaa principle of cooperative economics) and bringing the black dollar back to the community,” said Celeste Grayer, a community activist, Pamoja social worker and event coordinator.
Grayer said the event was too important to allow rain to stop it, which is why there was a plan B – moving it to St. Louis Artworks, 5959 Delmar, where the celebration was initiated last year.
“It’s a celebration for everyone and important to spread the knowledge, and I wanted to be in line with my elders and ancestors,” Grayer said.
Local rapper KP, who performed a rap about Dred Scott (the enslaved man in St. Louis who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom in 1857), said the holiday was especially special to him because he was shot last year on June 19 (the official Juneteenth holiday and origin of the portmanteau name). Slavery had been outlawed as of Jan. 1, 1863, but Texas continued to hold people enslaved until Union soldiers arrived on June 19, 1865, to announce the end of the Civil War and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.
“I’m really celebrating this day of freedom,” KP said after his performance.