BELOIT - The Juneteenth Celebration was back in Beloit Saturday, bigger and better than ever.
Thanks to work by YWCA Rock County and the Elite Ladies of Beloit, Beloit's Telfer Park was filled with 28 vendors, food, music, dancing, voter registration, an old-fashioned softball game and lots of fellowship. The event and accompanying pleasant weather drew out a big crowd as well as Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin's first African American to hold the position.
Juneteenth is considered the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. It was originally celebrated on June 19, the day that Union soldiers in 1865 told enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and they were free, according to the Associated Press.
"While Black people were free on paper, the fight for equity continued throughout our country's history from Reconstruction to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement. And I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge how that fight for equity continues today - through the age of mass incarceration and voter suppression, issues we see first-hand both in our city and in our state," Barnes said at the event.
Barnes said Wisconsin has been consistently ranked as the worst place to raise a black child, with wealth gaps not seen since the Great Depression.
"Partisan gerrymandering has unfairly allowed some to gain power and create policies that continue to oppress Black people and other communities of color," Barnes said.
Barnes encouraged the crowd to celebrate freedom and one another, as it continues to fight to address inequities that divide people.
Although the event organizers said there had been some Juneteenth festivities over the years in Beloit at Summit Park, it was time for a big celebration to promote unity. Gayle Listenbee, of the Elite Ladies of Beloit, reached out to YWCA Executive Director Angela Moore to help set up the event. She said Moore sprung into action, helping pull off a successful event with support from the city.
"Elite Ladies wanted something to galvanize the community and bring unity. We are blessed to be in a diverse community. We work to celebrate as we educate," Listenbee said.
"It's important we understand our history and celebrate freedom," Moore said.
The celebration, which ran all afternoon, kicked off with a ceremony at 12:30 p.m. including prayer, the Negro National Anthem, a brief history of Juneteenth, comments by Barnes and more.
Those at the Juneteeth Celebration were thrilled it was back and going so well.
"It's a good time for family and heritage. It brings out generations of people to celebrate together," said Dorthy Pride who came with husband Dale Pride and 8-month-old grandson Malachi Elliott.
A group of 15-20 people from Providence Missionary Baptist Church had come together to showcase a variety of talents.
Cherry Malone was selling her made-from-scratch cakes including red velvet, strawberry and caramel as well as homemade pretzels.
"I love it. It's great to socialize, eat, and enjoy the entertainment," Malone said.
Minister Leshay Collier was selling purses and belts with the church and watching her daughter do praise dancing. Others from the church including Karen Ahmed and Samantha Woods were at the tables promoting their church and catching up with old friends.
Tara Dunn, who was selling sugar scrubs and soaps, said it's nice to have the opportunity to celebrate Juneteenth in Beloit.
"It's a great turnout, and I appreciate the organizers bringing us together," Dunn said.