Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved Black people in the United States, isn’t for two more weeks — but Cincinnati’s celebration started Tuesday morning.
The Juneteenth flag rose over the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Art Climb, that wide set of stairs leading from Gilbert Avenue to the museum, while Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival organizer Lydia Morgan watched. Two others will appear at the Hamilton County building downtown and City Hall before the June 19 holiday.
“When we celebrate the Fourth of July, you see flags everywhere,” Morgan said. “We’re spreading the joy. Next year, we could have 20 buildings that want to raise flags at their building. We welcome it.”
The Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival started in 1986 and is typically marked by a large celebration in Eden Park on the holiday. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented it from happening as planned, but other events in 2020 — foremost among them the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd — produced a new level of interest in its mission.
To Morgan, that mission is: “To make people aware of the legacy of slavery and freedom” in the United States.
“This past year, we have had a real bout with the legacy of slavery,” she said, adding: “ I am hoping people think about freedom, love, respecting each other. This is our history. We can’t do a thing about it, but we can make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Zeta Wolf, who also watched the flag-raising, didn’t know what Juneteenth was until she moved to Cincinnati 17 years ago. She’s happy to see other people having the same learning experience.
“I think more people will get to know who we are rather than believe all the things that have been said, because we are a strong people,” said Wolf, who is Black. “We believe in the US. I'm going to get teary-eyed. We live here. We want to be a part of this place. We don't want to stand out on the side or be pushed out to the side.”
Juneteenth celebration events, including a symbolic dance on the Ohio riverfront, will continue until the day itself. Anyone interested in more information about the festival can find it right here.