Eau Claire’s 2017 Juneteenth celebration will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, June 19 at Carson Park’s Pine Pavilion.
This will be the 18th annual observance in Eau Claire. The event is designed to bring together area residents to celebrate their commitment to a more united community enriched by its diversity.
The event’s theme this year is the 14th Amendment. Keynote speakers will be Dr. David Shih, a nationally recognized expert on diversity and an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and State Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire).
City Council President Kerry Kincaid will read the city’s proclamation regarding Juneteenth. The event also will include food, music and activities for children. This year’s musical guest will be Irie Sol.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Grange, landed at Galveston, TX with news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
In Eau Claire, Juneteenth “has come to also recognize how people of different races work to bridge cultural difference,” said Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, UW-Eau Claire professor of history. “It seems to get bigger every year.”
She added that it started here in 2000 as a small celebration and picnic, as is traditional with these celebrations, and recently has attracted close to 150 celebrants.
” The organizing committee has kept it family friendly, alcohol free, non-commercialized, local and educational deliberately, to reflect the origins and values of the holiday,” she said.
The Uniting Bridges Organization – an educational group which combines the former Juneteenth and Martin Luther King Day committees and is committed to bridging racial differences – organizes and coordinates the Juneteenth event.
“In this environment and these times, it is necessary and proactive to find ways to build unity among different cultures,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “Our vision, from the beginning, has been proactive.
“Some people have wanted to deny the need for racial bridging,” she added. “The national racial incidents, and some of the small local ones, show the need for deliberate, determined, prosocial educational activism toward building unity and a shared vision of community.
“This is a way to prevent conflict, by promoting understanding,” she said.
“Eau Claire sees itself as a forward-thinking community,” she said. “Building unity around shared values across race and culture helps the Eau Claire community maintain the desirability and peace this city has long been known for.”
The group that organized Eau Claire’s first Juneteenth celebration included Berlye Middleton, Linda DesForges, Mike Huggins and the late Cal Eland.
The UW-Eau Claire Chancellor’s and Affirmative Action offices, Chippewa Valley Technical College Diversity Resources and the city of Eau Claire are the main sponsors of the Juneteenth celebration. Other sponsors are still being sought.
“These kinds of grassroots community activities make Eau Claire a strong community,” Ducksworth-Lawton said.