Advance Notice: Briefs

Michigan turns to history, art to celebrate Juneteenth

By: - June 20, 2022 8:03 am

Michigan residents took part in Juneteenth events across the state, including a celebration at Detroit’s Eastern Market. | Ken Coleman photo

Michigan residents around the state celebrated Juneteenth over the long holiday weekend with music, readings and historical displays. In Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, more than a dozen events were held.

Erica Hill, Detroit’s deputy director of the Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Department, said that the Juneteenth recognition has vital importance for city residents. It marks the day, June 19, 1865, that Black people in Galveston, Texas learned that slavery had ended. It was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Central to our celebration of Juneteenth is our education component and we talk about the inequities that led to the enslavement of our people and how some of them are still prevalent today,” Hill, who is African American, told the Advance on Friday.   

President Joe Biden signed legislation in 2021 that made Juneteenth a federal holiday. It is being recognized on Monday.

The gathering that Hill helped to lead in the Motor City included an education display at Eastern Market that shared the history of the Underground Railroad, the system of trails and steamboat routes that guided Black slaves from the South to free states like Michigan. 

Detroit, which is 79 percent Black, was joined by cities across the state in recognizing Juneteenth. They included Benton Harbor, Dearborn, Farmington Hills, Flint, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Lansing, Madison Heights, Mt. Clemens, Westland and others.  

On Saturday, the Wayne County Parks and the Huron-Clinton Metroparks hosted the Juneteenth Heritage Celebration at Nankin Mills Park in Westland about 22 miles west of downtown Detroit. Dozens of people attended the effort that included Westland Mayor William Wild and Bernard Parker, a former member of the Wayne County Commission and a current member of the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority.

In June 2005, then Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed legislation designating the third Saturday in June as Juneteenth National Freedom, making the state the 18th in the nation to do so. It came after state Sen. Martha Scott, an African American Democrat in Highland Park, introduced a resolution lifting up the recognition. 

On Sunday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a proclamation declaring June 19th as “Juneteenth Celebration Day in Michigan.”

The city of Detroit, Metro Detroit Business Alliance, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit Means Business, the Eastern Market Development Corporation, Detroit branch of the NAACP and others partnered to host a set of Juneteenth events.

Juneteenth flag flies along Livernois Avenue in Detroit | Ken Coleman photo

They included a Friday “rhythm and art” block party at Eastern Market, a Saturday business stroll along the Avenue of Fashion, a community that includes several Black-owned businesses, and Sunday events at Eastern Market that featured a history of the Underground Railroad, the noted 1963 civil rights march in Detroit that featured the Rev. Martin Luther King as well as poetry readings, live music, face painting, Detroit Pistons-sponsored basketball games and several food trucks.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, an African American from Detroit, pointed out in a written statement the importance of government recognition. 

“Juneteenth marks a crucial day in our nation’s history to recognize the important progress we’ve made, while committing ourselves to the ongoing effort to center equity in all our work and make Michigan a place where every person can succeed,” he said.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.