Juneteenth in Johnson County includes a block party, interactive history and Black-owned businesses

Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Juneteenth will be an officially recognized holiday in Iowa City for the first time this year, and the city, in association with Johnson County and other partners, is hosting a weeklong series of events culminating on Saturday, which will be the 156th anniversary of the event the day memorializes.

On June 19, 1865, Union troops arriving at Galveston Bay brought the news to the enslaved people of Texas that the Emancipation Proclamation had abolished slavery in the parts of the county controlled by the Confederacy two and a half years earlier. Texas was the last of the Confederate states to receive the news.

Juneteenth, a celebration marking that day, became a tradition in Black communities in Texas, and eventually Black communities around the United States.

But as happy an annual event as Juneteenth is, it has complexities other holidays don’t. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had declared slavery illegal in the sections of the U.S. controlled by the Confederacy, it wasn’t until six months after Juneteenth that the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude (“except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”) in the entire country. And, of course, the American public still has come to recognize either the impact of slavery as it existed or its legacy.

Whether Juneteenth should properly be considered a celebration or a commemoration will be one of the topics at the Community Conversations “Real Talk” Discussion, held via Zoom, Monday at 6 p.m. Registration for the panel discussion is free.

In addition to Juneteenth, panelists will examine “hot topics of discussion in the Black communities,” Johnson County Inclusion and Equity Specialist Keisha Fields told Mayor Bruce Teague in the latest Community Connection. “Some of it is centered around Black Lives Matter and how we are advocating for ourselves.”

Other topics will include how schools do or do not reflect their communities, and police reform. Registration for the event is free.

There will be another free Juneteenth Zoom event on Tuesday night at 7 p.m., for a discussion of On Juneteenth, the new book by Harvard Professor Annette Gordon-Reed. Gordon-Reed has won multiple prizes for her scholarship, including the Pulitzer Prize, and her work on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings and their children transformed the study of the Founding Fathers and their relationship to slavery.

This book is somewhat more personal than her other work. Gordon-Reed, who grew up in Texas, combines her own experiences and the history of Juneteenth in the book. Online registration is required for the session.

On Wednesday, the Iowa City Area Juneteenth Celebration will offer a different kind of online experience: the Education and Resource Virtual Fair. “This year’s fair will feature sessions about financial literacy, wealth and the history of Juneteenth,” the county’s Juneteenth Celebration page says. “First 100 people to register will get a swag bag containing items from participating vendors. We are also giving away a $100 and $50 HyVee gift card.”

The schedule for Wednesday will be:

Networking: 4:00 – 4:20

Session 1: “What is Juneteenth?” 4:20 – 4:50

Networking: 4:50 – 5:10

Session 2: “Money Talk 101” 5:10 – 5:40

Networking: 5:40 – 6:00

Session 3: “Wealth Management” 6:00 – 6:30

“Participants are welcome to come and go throughout the event,” according to the registration page.

On Thursday, events switch from online to in-person with a community block party at Chauncey Swan Park. The three-hour event starts at 5 p.m. and will feature “food, music and a bounce house, along with a three-on-three basketball tournament.” It is free and open to the public.

After the block party concludes, Chauncy Swan Park will become an outdoor movie theater, with a showing of the 2020 film, Miss Juneteenth.

The film follows a single mother, who wants her daughter to win the Miss Juneteenth pageant. Winners of the pageant — a real annual event in Texas — receive a scholarship to the historically Black college or university of their choice. The mother is a former winner, and hopes a pageant victory can ensure a brighter future for her daughter. The daughter, however, is interested in things other the pageant.

It’s the first feature film from writer/director Channing Godfrey Peoples, and was widely praised when it was released last year.

“The movie tackles multitudinous themes in its roughly 100 minutes, from the significance of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, to the legacy of racism in predatory bank lending practices,” the New York Times wrote in a review of the film titled “Celebrating Black Girlhood.” “But what’s most impressive is the amount of space Peoples’s black female characters inhabit in the narrative.”

Like all films in Chauncey Swan Park, Miss Juneteenth is free and open to the public.

Two events are listed for Saturday. The first is a blood drive from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Johnson County Administration Building, The second is drive-through meal pick-up at Riverfront Crossings Park. Rodney’s Jamaican Jerk & BBQ and Wich-uh-Waffle will provide the food, and there will be vegetarian options available. Juneteenth T-shirts will also be distributed as people drive through to pick up meals.

Both meals and T-shirts will be available on a first-come-first-served basis, for as long as supplies last.

One aspect of the county’s Juneteenth Celebration is occurring all week long. Fourteen local Black-owned businesses are participating in the Juneteenth History Walk-In. Each of the businesses will have a poster detailing an aspect of Black history, and a stamp.

“Pick up a punch card at any of the participating businesses, get it stamped at a least seven of the locations and be entered into a drawing to win a $100 or $50 gift card from one of the businesses,” organizers explained.

“I think this is the event I’m most excited about, because it showcases some of the local Black-owned businesses in the area,” Keisha Fields told Mayor Teague.

The following businesses are participating:

• Venus Beauty Supply – 1714 5th St, Coralville
• Textures Salon – 420 1st Ave Ste #113, Coralville
• SugaPeach – 650 Pacha Pkwy # 1, North Liberty
• Keto Kitchen – 116 E Washington St, Iowa City
• Dunn Brothers – 3284 Crosspark Rd Ste A, Coralville
• Crepes De Luxe Café – 309 E College St, Iowa City
• Christina’s Unity Beauty Supply – 400 Kirkwood Ave, Iowa City
• A to Z Thrift Store – 102 1st Ave, Coralville
• Basic Goods – 125 S Dubuque St, Iowa City
• First Class Boutiques – KPlaza, 405 Hwy 1 W, Iowa City
• Tweety Juice Bar – 1451 Coral Ridge Ave, Coralville
• Modina African Market – 399 IA-1, Iowa City

Two local food trucks — Rodney’s Jamaican Jerk & BBQ and Island Vybz — are also taking part in the History Walk-In.

The recognition of Juneteenth as an official city holiday was part of the 17-pont resolution the Iowa City Council unanimously passed in June 2020, largely in response to a list of demands presented by the Iowa Freedom Riders (IFR). IFR announced its own Juneteenth event on social media on Monday. The event will be on Saturday, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at St. Morrison Park in Coralville, and will feature food, music, flag football and other activities.

Because Juneteenth is on a Saturday this year, the city will officially observe it on Friday, June 18. Most city offices will be closed for the day.

Although this is the first year Juneteenth will be an official holiday, it is not the first time it has been publicly celebrated in Iowa City.

“The first major Juneteenth festival in Johnson County was held on June 26, 2011, at Mercer Park,” the county’s Juneteenth page notes. “The event was hosted by Club Kazi, a group founded by LaTasha DeLoach in 2007 and consisted of members who had a background in social work. Members of Club Kazi, whose name means ‘to work’ in Swahili, brought resources to foster children through partnership with local social-service providers.”