CINCINNATI — In all the years that Lydia Morgan and her husband, Noel, have been planning the Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival, they have endured blistering heat and pouring rain.
They were determined not to let the coronavirus pandemic stop the city’s 33rd annual celebration of the true end of slavery in 1865.
So the Morgans and a team of volunteers created a Virtual Juneteenth celebration complete with one-hour concerts that will appear on area community cable outlets, YouTube and Vimeo starting June 19.
The timing, Morgan said, couldn’t be better.
“When everything played out the way that it did, it was like, whoa, you know, God just pushed us in the right direction,” she said. “I’m just happy that we decided to go on and have it.”
Virtual Juneteenth could yield the event’s biggest audience yet as word spreads throughout Greater Cincinnati and beyond, she said.
The death of George Floyd and the protests and calls for racial justice that followed have increased awareness around Juneteenth, Morgan said, as a date that celebrates when all people in the United States truly became free.
On June 19, 1865, a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas, and gave notice that the Civil War had ended and that all enslaved people were free. It was more than 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
More than 200,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for Juneteenth to be made a national holiday in 2020. The NFL and Nike recently announced they would add June 19 to their list of official, paid holidays.
Cincinnati’s first Juneteenth celebration was in 1986 in the West End. The Morgans began the annual Juneteenth festival in 1988 in Kennedy Heights at Daniel Drake Park. Even without any sponsors, the event drew about 1,500 people that first year, Morgan said.
The festival moved to Eden Park and has drawn as many as 6,000 people some years, she said.
Virginia Patterson, a festival volunteer, said she hopes the increased awareness about Juneteenth will lead people from all backgrounds to learn more about the history of slavery and the people who worked to help enslaved people gain their freedom.
“This is a time for the black community to celebrate each individual, because black lives do matter,” Patterson said. “This is a time that we can all reflect and have some restoration on how far the African American community has come, on where we’re going in America.”
Just like the in-person festival, Virtual Juneteenth will be free to the public.
Groups featured in the video concerts will include Last Boppers, Ms. Jaz, Stone City Band, Lakeside, The Elevation Band, IJO UGO Nigerian Dancers, the Juneteenth Celebration Choir, Cincy Brazil Samba Dance, Prodigal Sunz, Dunimis Sign & Mime, Renee Hill and Neva Ford.
The celebration also will feature a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by the Cincinnati Pops.
And for the first year in the festival’s history, the Juneteenth flag will be raised at Cincinnati City Hall during a ceremony Friday.
Deondra Kamau Means, a longtime Juneteenth Festival volunteer, said it’s about time.
Means said he remembers a time, 25 years ago, when he came home from college to see a Ku Klux Klan cross erected on Fountain Square and protesters across the street from the square objecting to the display.
“I live here in Cincinnati. I’m from Cincinnati,” he said. “If the KKK can put a cross on Fountain Square, then the Juneteenth flag should definitely be able to fly over City Hall.”
Morgan said she can’t wait to see the flag fly over City Hall after all these years.
“This is the first year it’s happened. And I have to say, mainly because I never even thought that it could happen,” she said. “We’re very excited about that.”
The Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival website has information about Virtual Juneteenth and where it can be watched starting June 19.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.