When Annie Weatherby Flowers first arrived in Madison she wanted to create an event that would celebrate Black culture. She quickly realized that the perfect opportunity was to mark the date on June 19, 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas first learned of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Known as Juneteenth, the informal holiday is observed by Black people across the United States as a special occasion to acknowledge the importance of personal liberty and the shared heritage of their struggle toward freedom. Flowers hoped she could build a sense of common purpose and inspire her friends and neighbors to unite in fellowship.
“I came from Milwaukee and there was nothing like Juneteenth here. The African-American community was kind of divided in terms of economics, social status and geographically,” she said. “Church was the only place that people came together. I thought, we should have Juneteenth here, something that brings people together no matter who they are, how much they make or what their social status is.”
Now in its 27th year Madison’s Juneteenth celebration draws the support of the African-American community throughout the city. Starting off with a parade that began at the Fountain of Life Church on Badger Road, participants made their way down Park Street to the Madison Labor Temple. With plenty of delicious food, cultural product vendors, and live music to enjoy area residents gathered together in tribute to the sacrifices of previous generations. Several speakers also encouraged everyone there to recognize that there is still much work left to do before true freedom is achieved.
“Although we have made tremendous progress, the march for full equality must still continue,” said Flora Csontos, a representative who read a statement from U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin. “Today let us join together as one community inspired by those who came before us and recommit ourselves to pass on to the next generation an America that is more equal, not less.”
Madison Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes was also in attendance to share a statement from Mayor Paul Soglin.
“Today is a celebration of a historical moment in America, but it is also a moment when we can come together as a community to carry on the legacy of progress and equality.”
In the hopes of expanding the Juneteenth event throughout the year, Annie Weatherby Flowers wants the people of Madison to welcome and embrace the African American community every day.
“I want to see it evolve into a cultural center, that the celebration is just one piece of it,” she said. “That’s goal, how do we keep Juneteenth going? How do we evolve to appeal to all the folks who are African-American or just who just want to come and learn about us and experience us.”