Louisiana’s oldest Juneteenth celebrations return amid COVID, on heels of holiday legislation

In 1976, Baton Rougeans first celebrated Juneteenth with a parade. Then annual celebrations occurred sporadically in the capital city until historian Sadie Roberts-Joseph began hosting annual celebrations consistently in the late 1980s.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day, is a holiday celebrating the 1865 emancipation of all African and Black people who were enslaved in the United States.

In 1992, the city of Alexandria hosted the state’s first city-wide public celebration, nearly a decade before Roberts-Joseph, other community leaders, and legislators were able to secure a state statute recognizing Juneteenth Observance Day. That was in 2003.

Earlier this month on June 2, Rep. Larry Selders‘ pushed through House Bill 554 to designate Juneteenth as a state holiday. The legislation passed the House unanimously. On June 11, Governor John bel Edwards signed the bill and designated Juneteenth as a state holiday, and state employees will have half a day off on Friday, June 18. Likewise President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17, making June 19th a federal holiday.

“To our knowledge the first public celebration of Juneteenth was held in 1993 in Alexandria, Louisiana,” wrote Carolyn Frazier, organizer of the 29th Annual Juneteenth Let’s Do This Together Celebration. Similarly, residents in Donaldsonville began their official Juneteenth celebrations in 1998. They will celebrate on June 5 this year.

According to the Central Louisiana Juneteenth Cultural Celebration, the inaugural celebration was organized by former Alexandria councilman and current Rapides Parish School Board member John Allen, former Rapides Police Juror Joe Fuller, and fundraiser Allen Semien Sr. More than 500 people participated in the one-day event.

The annual celebration did not occur in 1995 and in 2020 due to the pandemic. In 1996, the Alexandria News Weekly and publisher Leon Coleman sponsored the celebration in order to continue the event. Once held at the Alexandria Amphitheatre with more than 15,000 participants, this year’s 29th celebration will be June 10-19 at locations across the city. Participants engage in entertaining activities that are designed to raise cultural awareness and better understanding of each other.

Likewise, organizers in Donaldsonville have hosted Juneteenth celebrations for 23 years . Started by former Donaldsonville Mayor B.J. Francis Sr. and his late wife, Janet Ganes Francis. It was by the River Road African American Museum and other volunteers in the community, including Tamiko Francis Garrison, Allison Hudson, and the City of Donaldsonville.

Upcoming celebrations

Other Juneteenth celebrations are:

  • June 5. Donaldsonville 23rd Music Festival Celebrating Freedom.  11am – 7pm at the Frank Sotile Pavillion in Donaldsonville.
  • June 12, CADAV Juneteenth Celebration . Scotlandville Parkway, 3200 Harding Blvd., 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Vendors, Food, games, music, and a 1K Trail Walk
  • June 14 – 18. Councilwoman Erika L. Green and Imagination Leads LLC are hosting a weeklong Juneteenth Celebration. June 14 is a Virtual Mentorship panel featuring: Jalessa Jones, literacy specialist; attorney James Benton; and Ashley Chavis, educational consultant. 6.pm. June 16 Virtual HBCU workshop with representatives from local HBCUs, LOFSA, and TRIO Programs. 6pm. Registration is recommended through Eventbrite. June 18 hybrid speaker series featuring An Evening with Tiffany Cross, host of the Cross Connection on MSNBC and author of “Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy”.  Ticket purchases for in-person attendance includes a signed copy of her book manshiptheatre.org. Tickets for virtual participation are on Eventbrite.  
  • June 15, Tangipahoa historian Antionette Harrell will present “Finding Our Ancestors: Collecting Oral Family History“, 2pm online at www.redlands.edu/juneteenth
  • June 18 Baton Rouge African American Museum Juneteenth Celebration at the Capitol Park Museum, 600 N. Fourth St., 6 p.m. Live music, poetry, and keynote speaker Raymond Jetson
  • June 18-19 Madam CJ Walker Louisiana Juneteenth Celebration. June 18. Street naming ceremony, 6pm. June 19, 10am parade at E.E. Wallace Blvd in Ferriday, La. June 20 Zydeco and Blues Concert, noon -8pm in Jonesville. the home of Madam CJ Walker.
  • June 19 Empowered by Our History, Led by Our Legacy Juneteenth Parade Celebration Oberlin, La. At the Allen Parish Civic Center 10am to the Veteran’s Memorial Park where festivities will continue.
  • June 19, Black Market Pop-Up Shop, Jewel J Newman Community Center, 2013 Central Road, Noon – 5pm Hosted by Klassy Bourgeoisie and the Alchemist Table.
  • June 19 New Orleans African American Museum
  • June 19 Unified Juneteenth Caravan, Memorial Stadium, 1750 Foss St., 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Register for the event at Eventbrite.com. Line-up will begin at 9:30AM at Memorial Stadium. The Caravan will begin at 10:30AM and ending at the park at 4200 Gus Young. One hundred participants will register to participate.
  • June 19 Annual Juneteenth Celebration at Gus Young Park, 4200 Gus Young Avenue, in Baton Rouge, noon to 4 p.m. Music by Kenny Neal and the Neal Family and COVID-19 vaccinations administered by CareSouth Medical and Dental. Everyone who gets the vaccine receives free crawfish or other refreshments and are entered into a drawing to win $1,000. 

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