What Juneteenth means to Charlotte festival-goers
Large crowds turned out for Juneteenth celebrations in Charlotte this weekend, enjoying food, music, dance and culture, while reflecting on the holiday's past and the continued fight for racial and social equity in the United States.
The Juneteenth federal holiday is officially observed Monday.
At the 26th annual Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas in Charlotte's Plaza Midwood neighborhood, crowds poured into Commonwealth Avenue to browse booths selling African art, jewelry and traditional African clothing, and to sample food from local vendors and food trucks.
The festival was founded in 1997 by Pape Ndiyae, who owns the House of Africa on Thomas Avenue. He told WFAE in 2021 that he created the festival when he moved to Charlotte to educate his new community on what the day means.
"Our aim is not trying to recreate the past, but to share in the spirit of freedom and togetherness. Because I believe that Juneteenth is not just an African American holiday, but a piece of American history," he said.
The holiday commemorates the day the last slaves in the U.S. learned they had been freed. It came on June 19, 1865 — two years after the Emancipation Proclamation — when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and told some 250,000 enslaved people that the Civil War had ended two months earlier.
At a Friday night drum circle on Thomas Avenue, Yvonne Dixon bounced her 9-month-old granddaughter on her knee outside the House of Africa.
She said to her, the holiday represented freedom and a reckoning with the history of slavery in the U.S., and she hoped the holiday would remind people to be kind to one another.
"I want people to think about how I can serve my other brother, how I can serve my other sister," she said, "We must learn that we are here for each other, and as long as we can understand that concept, we'll do better for each other."
Amunet Re Hotep, a teacher and mother of 12, said she was glad to see more people learning the history behind Juneteenth, especially since it became a federal holiday in 2021, and hoped awareness of the holiday would continue to spread.
"I think that it's very important to incorporate stories that have been left out of history, and even in 2023, it's not too late to add them," she said.
That sentiment was shared by Muhammad Diallo, who traveled from New York City to sell traditional clothes from his native Senegal at the Charlotte festival.
"(Juneteenth) can teach you about your history. You can learn something new about you," he said, adding that he hoped people would "think positive," during the holiday.
Food, dancing and bubbles in Charlotte's West End
Celebrations also took place in Charlotte's historic West End on Saturday with a festival organized by the local nonprofit For The Struggle.
The Saturday festival drew hundreds of people from around the city who strolled along Senior Drive, behind West Charlotte High School, browsing festival booths and enjoying food, music and an appearance from Hugo the Hornet.
Chanta Williamson attended with her daughter, La'Kena Williamson, who recently graduated from West Charlotte High. She said to her, the Juneteenth holiday was a celebration of community and setting aside differences.
"Everybody needs to come together, get along with each other. I mean, it's Juneteenth. It's time to represent, try to be there for each other," she said.
"No matter what your race or ethnicity is — come together," her daughter added.
Alan Blanks attended the West End festival on Saturday for the second year in a row, and said he hoped the country would take time this Juneteenth to reflect on its past and possible future.
"I want people to remember our history, be emboldened by our history, but also not lose sight on all the work we have to do going forward to make sure our children and those after us can enjoy things that we didn't get to enjoy long after we're gone," he said.
Juneteenth celebrations also took place Saturday in uptown Charlotte, Rock Hill, Cabarrus County, and in Belmont.
On Monday, the city of Charlotte will for the first time recognize Juneteenth as an official city holiday following a vote by city council last November.