Juneteenth brings together past, present and future African Americans

Jun 18, 2018

The 43rd Juneteenth Festival in MLK Park had beautiful weather to celebrate the day after the Civil War when news of the end of the war and of freedom for slaves reached a far corner of Texas.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Juneteenth sprawls across the park, from the stage near the Kensington with a crowded and musical church service Sunday morning, to stages on the other side of the park to celebrate more secular music for the rest of the day. In between, booths were bountiful for social and political purposes, food and clothing.

Taliba Asante, a member of the Juneteenth Board of Directors, says the event is a chance for African Americans to learn more about their history, as well as have a good time. Asante says the event also helps greater connection with the growing number of Africans locally.

"What we're doing is not necessarily reflected, but we always had a connection, but historically that connection has been broken," Asante said. "So we're certainly working at reconnecting and informing people of African descent."

Those connections also showed up in the booths. Harlem-based Benin native Melissa Pognon said there is a lot of interest from Juneteenth visitors in the clothing and fabrics she sells, most made in Africa, especially Ghana.
 

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"They are very keen on looking African, so they buy the prints. They want to have clothing made," Pognon said. "Some years back, it wasn't so much like that in the past. I would say like five years, seven years, it has been very much Black people wanting to really represent Africa in the colors and the patterns and the clothing, the complete like head wraps and headdress."

Restaurateurs said this also shows up in more of the stands selling African food, and more interest in the foods of Africa and of chefs from the Caribbean selling foods based on the culture, meats, fish and spices used in places like Trinidad.

Spring Byrd said visitors to the event were also a little more confrontational in the shirts she was selling.

"As far as being intelligent and smart and strong, things that women have to go through, not just Black women, but women in general," Byrd said, "but our base is geared toward predominantly Black, whether it's African Black, Caribbean Black, Latino Black, just the different cultures because when you look at our skin, people just judge us based on our skin."

Byrd said that's why shirts pushing Black points of view were selling so well. Heather Marie was selling clothing and other supplies, with messages like "Black Forever."

"We are selling apparel, accessories, as far as hand towels, face towels, slides, neck coolers to keep people cool out here," Heather Marie said.

She said the messages are pointed and intended to be, in these times.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

The food stands looked the same, but proprietors and staff say those Africans who have immigrated here are reflected in requests for different foods and in different recipes circulating. Fay, from the Kirkland Family Barbeque, said new cuisines are being shaped.

"They are bringing back some of our African heritages that we didn't know about, so a lot of young people are starting to learn their African heritage to try to connect some of the stands," Fay said, "and so, also, we have the Latinos and all those here who bring their food here, which is another cuisine to teach them to like other cultural foods also. It's just not always about soul food. It's about many more coming together."

Atiba said he could see the differences in the customers for Juneteenth he has seen since his first food stand back in 1977. He runs a food stand based on what's on dinner tables in his home island of Trinidad, although he says it hard to cook fish at this event. Atiba said people stop by and say they only like food from a different island.

"We've had people say that until they try it. Once they try it, they come back," Atiba said. "A lot of customers we get here by word of mouth. Somebody stops by and buy food and they ask, 'Where did you get that from?' They come. They try it. They like it and they come back, year after year."

Atiba said there can be problems getting the food and supplies he need for that Trinidad cuisine, but much of it comes from Canada.