That year, a record 140,000 attendees pushed Juneteenth Day (always June 19) into the mainstream. The annual event stands as the longest continuously running cultural festival in Milwaukee. It honors the day in June 1865 when the Union Army brought word of the Emancipation Proclamation to Texas, freeing the last of the country’s slaves. Celebrations in other parts of the country began the year after, but didn’t reach Milwaukee until 1971, when the city became one of the first in the North to honor the day. The festival began like a big block party with beer, sweet corn, barbecue, soul music and gospel, plus appearances by leading African-Americans in the city. One of the festival’s pioneers, the late Janet Kemp, told the Milwaukee Journal in 1986, “Ever since black people came to America, they have been able to come together and get a camaraderie that says, ‘I’m going to survive. I’m going to make it.’”
This year’s 46th annual Juneteenth Day festival will take place along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, between Burleigh and Center streets. As is the custom, a parade will kick off the fun, setting off from Green Bay Avenue and Capitol Drive at 10 a.m. And later in the day, young women will compete to win the title of Miss Juneteenth, a pageant that will test their “personality and poise,” African dress and talent of choice. Overall attendance is expected run in the tens of thousands. For more info, see northcotthouse.org.