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History at the core of Juneteenth festival

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 18, 2001

[06/17/01] Music, poetry readings, and a re-enactment highlighted the second annual Juneteenth street festival which celebrated the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War.

The celebration took place in Marcus Bottom between Bowmar Avenue and Lane Street and incorporated a variety of different talents, street vendors and tributes to Vicksburg’s residents who have had an impact in history.

“So far, it’s been successful,” event organizer Ezell McDonald said.

Junteenth has been celebrating freedom and paying respect to the community’s ancestors for six years, McDonald said, but Saturday’s event was only the second time a street festival has been held.

“People enjoy getting out and meeting other people and having a good time,” McDonald said.

Those taking part in the day’s activities also said the event was a success, but some people expressed the warm temperatures, which reached into the 90s, may have dampened the numbers.

“Maybe if they had more shade out here, it would have helped,” Renata Green said.

Serena McDonald said temperatures were also warm last year, but she thought more younger people showed up at the 2000 celebration, and that maybe the news of the event didn’t reach as many people. However, she said the lineup of talent was enjoyable.

The celebration included local musicians such as the Christian rap group, Christside G’s Premiering Master Domous, and the rhythm and blues ballads of Sweet Harmony. A tribute to blues legend and Marcus Bottom resident Willie Dixon was also included.

Shots also rang out in the early evening as a reminder for people why the celebration was happening in the first place.

The Sons and Daughters of the U.S. Colored Troops out of Jackson wore the uniforms of Union soldiers and displayed weapons used by Colored Troops in the Civil War.

“It’s good they brought us in and made people aware that Juneteenth is not just a party, but that colored troops were used in the war to help free slaves still stuck on plantations,” Norman Fisher who led the re-enactment group said.

Fisher said he thought the group’s representation was important because the part African American troops played in the Civil War was often left out of history books, leaving people unaware of the contributions blacks made to such an historical event.

“We let them know the reason why we celebrate this,” Fisher said. “Blacks did more than sit on a plantation and wait for the war to end. They went out and fought and died for the country.”

Vicksburg resident Leroy Griffin said he believes the best part of the festival was just the people who came together to celebrate the event.

“It’s good that different counties and people can come together and celebrate like this,” Griffin said.

The section of Halls Ferry between Bowmar Avenue and Lane Street was closed off to traffic for the occasion which ran from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. About 14,000 vehicles travel through Marcus Bottom each day, making it one of the busiest city streets in Vicksburg and some business owners have expressed concern about what closing the streets may do to business.

Lynn Dickerson of Dickserson Tire in Marcus Bottom appealed to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen in April to reconsider closing the road because customers would be unable to get to the business. The board decided to close the roads but Mayor Robert Walker said he would ensure access was granted to businesses in the area affected.

Dickerson, whose shop closes at 1 p.m. on Saturdays, complained that last year’s celebration hindered business at her store. However, Ken Chaung, who runs Jimmy Chu’s Food Store on the closed off section of Halls Ferry, said the celebration has been good for his business.

“It has helped,” Chaung said. “Saturday is usually a quite day for us. There’s been a lot more activity today, so it’s been good.”