Juneteenth is a newly recognized federal holiday that celebrates the day in which slaves in Galveston, Texas, were proclaimed free – more than two years after the emancipation proclamation was signed into law. Today, Black Americans across the country come together on June 19 to rejoice in our blackness, while contemplating the ways in which our country still has so much more to go before we achieve true equality across the racial spectrum.
This year, I spent my Juneteenth weekend at Centennial Olympic Park, which hosted Juneteenth ATL™‘s 10th Annual Parade & Music Festival. According to its website, “Juneteenth Atlanta Parade & Music Festival is a member of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation that brought you Juneteenth as a national holiday!” Social media posts surrounding the festival promised a free, family event with over 200 community vendors, food, bouncy houses and games, several sound stages for musicians and entertainers, and a parade that would start from Georgia State Station and end at John Portman Blvd.
I spent about five hours at the event, snapping photos as I made my way through the festival’s sizable number of vendor tents. It was remarkable to see such a large number of vendors, most of them Black-owned, particularly overwhelming as I viewed the park grounds from above, via the Skyview Ferris wheel.
Crowds at the festival were fairly diverse. I was surprised to see so many non-Black people there, some buying from vendors while others simply took a look around. There was locational diversity as well – Juneteenth ATL’s website claimed to offer “the best and least expensive accommodations” for those coming from out of state, and I was stopped by a vendor whose company originated in Brooklyn, New York.
At least half of the vendors from the event were selling food, options ranging from BBQ, seafood, international cuisines, vegan food, festival favorites like funnel cake and deep fried candy bars, and of course some fruity drinks to wash it all down on a very hot day. I’d say the crowd favorite was a cocktail drink served inside of a pineapple; I seemed to find it in just about everyone’s hand. After much internal contention, I settled on Slutty Vegan for my lunch that day, knowing that it would likely be my only chance to try the highly acclaimed menu without encountering the sidewalk-long lines at their physical locations.
Merchandise sold at the event included clothes, hair products, art, jewelry, soaps, perfumes, home items, and other memorabilia. My favorite of them all were the art pieces, which depicted Black life and culture in the way that only Black artists can – seeing Malcolm X, Barack Obama, Harriet Tubman and Tupac drawn riding horses together instantly reminded me of something I’d see hanging at my grandmother’s house. Bold, Afrocentric patterns and slogans such as “More Black Love”, “Black Fathers Matter,” and “Anti Fake Woke Club” were a commonality in many of the clothes sold at the event.
Some of the merchandise sold at the event (click to enlarge)
Musicians featured at the event were local, but no less entertaining or enthusiastic. Particularly, I was impressed as I watched a young rapper perform for a decently sized and captivated crowd of adults on one of the festival’s many sound stages.
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Some aspects of the day were very obviously geared toward a younger crowd – giant bouncy houses, inflatables, backyard-style games, and a 360-photo booth. Despite the efforts though, it seemed as if anybody under 13 could be found playing in the park’s existing water sprinklers. This might have something to do with the 90 degree weather that made the bouncy houses almost unbearable to be inside.
Although the food, games, and entertainment were the main draw of the event, many of the tents set up around the park grounds were run by community organizations looking to reach the festival’s wide and [mostly] Black audience. One tent run by the Latino Community Fund for Georgia helped individuals register to vote. “Allie the Safety Gator: All About Gun Safety,” a children’s book, had their own tent as well. MARTA held raffles at their tent for various prizes. One tent focused on sexual abuse sold shirts with slogans such as “Got consent?” and had a sign behind them reading, “We are dedicated to supporting all underserved survivors of rape, abuse, and trafficking.” Other organizations I saw at the event included the ACLU, the Libertarian Party of Atlanta, Our Money Matters, and State Farm.
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V-103/1380 WAOK had their own sound stage at the event, where speakers gave lessons on financial literacy. I watched a part of the stage, where a speaker emphasized living within your means and explained the different types of credit in an accessible way. It seemed to register with a crowd of onlookers that got bigger as the day went on.
The most disappointing aspect of the day was the parade, or rather, the lack thereof. Though I arrived at 11 am for a parade slated for 12 pm, if it happened, I didn’t see it. Social media posts from after the event don’t seem to indicate otherwise.
Despite this though, I had a great time at the Juneteenth Atlanta Parade & Music Festival. Seeing so many Black vendors, most of whom were local to this community, and being able to support them financially was definitely the best part of the day. After a great Juneteenth weekend, I’m looking forward to attending any future iterations of this annual event.