New Orleans Hosts Many Events to Commemorate
By Renetta Burrell-Perry
It’s perhaps the most important date in African American history – June 19, 1865. On the heels of the agony and turmoil of the recently fought Civil War – still historically ranked as the bloodiest American war – slaves’ lives hung in balance. Though President Abraham Lincoln had written The Emancipation Proclamation two years prior, freeing slaves in 11 states, the document’s vision, power and credence would take two more years and a Constitutional Amendment to reach full fruition, abolishing slavery throughout the entire United States.
Juneteenth commemorates the fateful day in June when the first group of slaves, in Galveston, Texas, heard the news of their freedom, thus loosening the literal and figurative chains that had bound them to the most horrific experience faced by any other race of people the world-over. The enslavement of African peoples hauled to the United States via the Middle Passage and the Transatlantic Slave Trade is fully documented as an atrocity which invoked generational pain and disparity of epic proportions. No other race had endured the brutal dehumanization and physical and mental torture that the Africans had, and there would be centuries more of brutality, mistreatment, misogyny, and dehumanization to come.
The Juneteenth Story & Maafa
Juneteenth, which originated in Galveston, Texas in 1865, is observed as the African American Emancipation Day, and is celebrated around the world during the month of June. It is the oldest commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Maafa, a Kiswahili word that means “horrific tragedy,” refers to the Middle Passage or Transatlantic Slave Trade during which millions of captives from Africa were separated from their families and homeland and brought to the New World under the inhumane system of chattel slavery. Of great significance to these commemorations is the year 2019 which connects with historical events. Three-hundred years ago this month, the first two slave ships—L’Aurore and Le Duc du Maine—arrived in Louisiana on June 6, 1719, carrying enslaved Africans from Benin, West Africa. Four-hundred years ago, in the year 1619, enslaved Africans arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia. These are facts that are conspicuously missing from our history books which is why organizations like The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF), organized here in New Orleans in 1994, are emphatic about educating future generations and keeping an open dialogue regarding modern day issues that continue to plague African-Americans and formulating solutions to the problems faced by today’s youth.
John Mosely of NJOF says the way to continue the Juneteenth Story and to further emancipate ourselves as African Americans is ultimately through the education of our youth. “We have got to teach our children who they really are, and from where they come from while telling them about the price that the elders paid for them to be free,” he says, observing why he thinks the commemoration pales in comparison to other celebrations around the nation, even here in the City of New Orleans.
He says we as African Americans continue to carry a stigma stemming from the disgrace we endured during slavery and still endure to this day. He continues to explain that the lack of national focus surrounding commemorations like Juneteenth and Maafa are rooted in America’s deceit and unwillingness to face the facts. For the nation to embrace Juneteenth and Maafa commemorations he says, “America would have to look deeply at itself and admit that it is not the perfect country that it professes to be. And there’s the truth that we as Blacks and people of color have to face. We don’t support our own celebrations such as Juneteenth because we are ashamed of our own history, so a lot of us stick our heads in the sand and support other celebrations like Jazz Fest, and Mardi Gras, Essence Fest because we have become programmed to spend our money with the other man.”
Speaking of the mentality embedded in us as a result of the effects slavery has systematically imposed upon us, he says, “In a word we suffer from a lack of unity. The elders say we are like crabs in a basket, when we see one of our brothers or sisters going up, we pull him or her back down.”
New Orleans Commemorates Juneteenth and Maafa
The NJOF recently celebrated its 25th-Year Anniversary in February and it continues in its efforts to educate and commemorate. NJOF in unison with Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center have organized a schedule of events to commemorate Juneteenth and Maafa.
Ashé partners with the 400 Commission, Congo Square Preservation Society, and United Culture Bearers of Louisiana, joining others around the country for “Let’s Talk –The International Day of Drumming and Healing.” In New Orleans, on June 19, 2019 from 9:00 AM until 9:00 PM, the sound of drums and the sacred vibration of healing prayers, chants and songs will fill the air. Drumming will start at North Claiborne at 9:00 AM. Other locations will be The Donald Harrison Senior Museum, Ashé Power House, Algiers Ferry Landing, Black Star Books & Caffe, Community Book Center, King & Queen Emporium, Historic Congo Square and LeMusée de f.p.c. Dr. Flint D. Mitchell’s play, The Other Black History, also a part of the kickoff, will be on stage at The Ashé Power House at 7:00 PM.
The Maafa Season culminates with the 19th Annual Maafa Commemoration on Saturday, July 6, 2019 at 7:00 a.m., in Congo Square within Armstrong Park in New Orleans. The community, Essence Festival goers, and visitors from around the world are invited to participate in this sacred ceremony where we remember our African ancestors. Independent Scholar and Author Freddi Williams Evans is this year’s Grand Griot.
During the Maafa Commemoration, hundreds of people attired in white clothing come together as one to pay tribute to those ancestors who died during the Middle Passage, as well as those who survived. The ceremony includes multi-denominational words of healing, ancestral songs, and the releasing of white peace doves. This year, we will also memorialize those enslaved Africans who were brought to Louisiana on the first slave ships. Drummers, dancers and Mardi Gras Indians will then lead the Maafa Procession from Congo Square through historic Tremé and the French Quarter, to the Mississippi River ending with the release of flowers in tribute to the ancestors. Along the way, brief stops will include the Tomb of the Unknown Slave (St. Augustine Catholic Church) and historic markers to the slave trade. Shuttles will be available to return participants to Congo Square.
For more information on events, contact Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center at (504) 569-9070 or visit their website at: www.ashecac.org