On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Texas after four years of fighting the Civil War. With him, he carried a piece of transformative news that is still celebrated today: The war had ended, and all those that had been enslaved were now free.
Known now as “Juneteenth,” this announcement is commemorated nationwide as an unofficial Black Independence Day. This year, Charlotte will celebrate its 19th annual Juneteeth Festival of the Carolinas with free food, music, guest speakers and dancing.
According to businessman Pape Ndiaye, president of the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas, this year’s celebration is unique because it will be a homecoming.
When Ndiaye started the festival in 1997, about 2,000 people celebrated in his store on Thomas Avenue, the House of Africa. Although it has been celebrated at Independence Park in recent years because of its growth, this year’s festival will be at the House of Africa, 1215 Thomas Ave., for the first time in almost a decade.
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Though Ndiaye grinned as he imagined the 20,000 people who came to last year’s festival fitting into his store, he has made the decision to condense the event to devote more time and resources into planning next year’s celebration.
Instead of its regular four-day schedule, the festival will begin with a drum circle on Friday at 6 p.m., and will close on Saturday around 9 p.m.
Ndiaye said he hopes that next year, which will mark Charlotte’s 20th Juneteenth festival, will be the biggest and best one ever. In order to do that, he said, he has already begun trying to raise money.
Yvonne Dixon, who is a resident of Rowan County, has made the Juneteenth festival a part of her plans for the past several years.
For her, the festival is about being inclusive of all people while demonstrating respect for all cultures. “It’s time to take into account the African-American experience,” she said. “It is a time of renewal.”
Juneteenth is a tool to educate and empower members of the community, Ndiaye said, and it represents how the best way to move forward in life is to understand the past.
“I believe Juneteenth is a part of American – not just African-American – history,” he said. “If you know who you are in the sea of life, you will be able to do good with your life.”