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Groups around Fort Wayne celebrate Juneteenth

Community Harvest Food Bank sold Juneteenth t-shirts, handed out hot dogs and ice cream, and invited community members to play games like cornhole, jump rope and checkers.
Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
Community Harvest Food Bank sold Juneteenth t-shirts, handed out hot dogs and ice cream, and invited community members to play games like cornhole, jump rope and checkers.

Just a few years after the day was officially declared a national holiday, places around Fort Wayne took time to celebrate Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, on Wednesday.

The Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all enslaved people in Confederate states legally free, went into effect on January 1, 1863. But, the news of that law traveled slowly across the country and it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas and announced that more than 250,000 enslaved Black people were free.

The day has been widely celebrated by Black people since, but it wasn’t until 2021 that the day was officially designated a federal holiday.

As such, local celebrations have ramped up in the past few years, adding to the celebrations that were already taking place around the holiday.

This year, Community Harvest Food Bank held its second annual Juneteenth celebration in Tillman park on the southside of Fort Wayne.

Attendees gathered in the park for music, food and games.

Darlene Walker is the warehouse supervisor for Community Harvest Food Bank. She said it’s important to host cultural events in the community, like Juneteenth.

“If we want people to understand who we are, where we come from and our history, the best way is to do it is to have a celebration so people understand and educate them at the same time," Walker said.

The food bank handed out plants ranging from fresh vegetables to pre-sprouted herbs to attendees at the celebration, donated by Stuckey's Greenhouse.
Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
The food bank handed out plants ranging from fresh vegetables to pre-sprouted herbs to attendees at the celebration, donated by Stuckey's Greenhouse.

The event also invited community members to come and meet their local first responders, with a fire truck and several firefighters in the park. Walker said this is so the younger generation can get to know their first responders.

“When they see a fireman or they see a police officer, that it’s someone familiar to them, it’s not a stranger," she said.

The foodbank was also able to give away plants that had been donated by Stuckey’s Greenhouse, which ranged from garden vegetables to smaller herbs, all sprouted and ready to be planted.

Last weekend, Juneteenth Fort Wayne held a ‘Real Juneteenth’ festival at Kettler Park, ahead of the holiday. At the event, they crowned the first Little Miss Juneteenth Fort Wayne, Namiah Mendoza-Starks.

She said it’s very special to get to hold the title.

“I’m showing other Black girls that they can achieve anything that they put their minds to or if they want to achieve anything that people doubt them of, that they can still do it,” Mendoza-Starks said.

Across town, the Allen County Public Library was taking a more historical approach to their own Juneteenth programming. The library is the home of the Rolland Center for Lincoln Research and displays in the exhibit are switched out often to encourage learning about different aspects of President Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency.

On Wednesday, the center invited Jonathan W. White, a professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University and board member of the Abraham Lincoln Institute, to speak about what led to the Emancipation Proclamation.

White said today people are more critical of the Emancipation Proclamation as not having been done quick enough, or simply not doing enough for enslaved people. He said, in his lecture, he wanted to get more to the heart of Lincoln and why he made the decisions, both politically and personally, that he did.

“I tried to tell stories of Lincoln interacting with African Americans to show what he was doing and then also to capture how interactions with black men and women changed his mind in some ways and had a real impact on public policy," White said.

White, who recently released a children’s book called ‘My Day With Abe Lincoln,’ said it’s important to celebrate days like Juneteenth because, historically, July 4 didn’t feel like it included Black people who were still enslaved at the time.

Jonathan W. White spoke at the main branch of the Allen County Public Library about the interactions Abraham Lincoln had and stories he heard that encouraged him to help free enslaved people.
Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
Jonathan W. White spoke at the main branch of the Allen County Public Library about the interactions Abraham Lincoln had and stories he heard that encouraged him to help free enslaved people.

“Frederick Douglass talked about this in 1852 and, in fact, he delivered his July 4 address on July 5, because he said ‘July 4 is a day for you, not for me," he said.

The Rolland Center currently has a Juneteenth exhibit which features art from the United States Colored Troops, Frederick Douglass’ speeches and a copy of a pocket-sized version of the Emancipation Proclamation that was handed out by Union troops in the south.

Curt Witcher is the director of special collections at the ACPL. He said the center has an incredible number of artifacts that can really tell the story of the time period when Lincoln was around, and shed light on events like Juneteenth, especially once it became a federal holiday.

“We felt it was even more important to say ‘hey, there are a lot of materials in the Lincoln collection here in the Rolland Center that can help shed light on that story, help illuminate that story,'" Witcher said.

Witcher said the Juneteenth exhibit in the center currently can give people a real idea of what was important to people during that time, based on the artifacts that were collected and saved.

“So, it’s really kind of a touchstone of why we’re celebrating this day," he said.

The Juneteenth exhibit is available for anyone to come in and visit during regular hours until July 2.

Walker said it’s important to find times to celebrate the community.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed here in Fort Wayne is that they have a giving heart and they are always willing to come out and participate and learn what goes on in this city to make our city better," she said.

She intends to continue helping host a Juneteenth event for Community Harvest and is always looking for ideas on how to improve it as they continue.

Ella Abbott is a multimedia reporter for 89.1 WBOI. She is a strong believer in the ways audio storytelling can engage an audience and create a sensory experience.