Memphis Juneteenth Festival at Health Sciences Park: Federal holiday



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At 10 a.m., when the earliest Juneteenth competition goers had been preparing for a brief stroll and run, Vincent Jamerson was readying his charcoal smoker. One of many first distributors to see close to the nook of Union Avenue and S. Dunlap Avenue, Jamerson, 58, has made a no-frills ritual of grilling, a previous time begun when he was younger and beginning fires for his mother’s smoker in North Memphis. 

Beneath the corporate identify “Lick the Bone,” Jamerson lives in Cordova and may often be discovered promoting “no matter folks like” — ribs, rooster, shoulder, smoked sausages — alongside Germantown Parkway and will likely be on the Southern Heritage Basic in September. 

Vincent Jamerson smokes meat in the course of the Juneteenth celebration at Well being Sciences Park, Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Memphis, TN. (Picture: Brandon Dahlberg / For

Because the odor of barbecue wafted from Jamerson’s set-up, so did tunes of his favourite musicians, amongst them Sam Cooke and Bobby “Blue” Bland. It was Jamerson’s first time grilling at a Juneteenth competition, because it was the primary time for Memphis’ Juneteenth competition to happen within the Well being Sciences Park. The Juneteenth City Music Competition has traditionally been held at Robert R. Church Park downtown, and at Douglass Park earlier than that.

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Although the park’s plaza area closest to Union Avenue was still gated during the two-day festivities, the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife were removed from the area earlier this month. The remains of the infamous Confederate general, slave trader, and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, will be reassembled in Columbia, Tennessee at the National Confederate Museum at Elm Springs along with his statue, removed from the park in late 2017. 

Perhaps symbolic to some, the timing of the exhumation, just in time for Juneteenth, was coincidental, said Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner, who also runs the Memphis Greenspace nonprofit that has had ownership of the park since the statue was removed. 

Juneteenth lanyards are one of several products sold at Leniya Kimbrough’s booth during the Juneteenth celebration at Health Sciences Park on Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Memphis, TN. (Photo: Brandon Dahlberg / For

“We wanted this process to be respectful, to be something that healed divisions,” Turner said during a recent press conference, describing a similarly “full circle” moment of having a Juneteenth celebration on the heels of the exhumation, a celebration of emancipation at a park that once did not allow Black people and has recently symbolized Memphis’ divisions.

Since the exhumation, Juneteenth became a federal holiday commemorating June 19, 1865, the date when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned they had been freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier. The holiday gained more recognition during last summer’s racial reckoning as thousands protested the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and injustices Black Americans face.

Some are at odds with declartion of the federal holiday, recognized at a time when many states, including Tennessee, have attempted to halt school discussions of the long-lasting effects of slavery and systemic racism through bans of critical race theory.

Federal holiday: Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. This year’s celebrations come amid a culture war.

Connita Hill sells T-shirts under her business “SistaStyle,” with the most popular ones showing African proverbs, commemorating Black history, like Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, and others with lighthearted, funny sayings. 

At the front of Hill’s booth, she framed a history of Juneteenth, a detailed addition to the festival’s outdoor museum with a timeline of events that walks through the beginning of slavery in America to the day’s Juneteenth Festival. Though her shirt business is about a year old, she’s been making them for a while, often making combination birthday-Juneteenth shirts for her oldest grandson, who turned 15 this June 19. 

She learned more about Juneteenth as an adult, eager to share history with her kids and grandkids. A few years ago, she preached about Juneteenth to her own congregation.

“I figure we got to start somewhere, and even if this is a minor step for some — which to me, it’s a major step,” Hill said of the federal holiday recognition. “If this is a minor step to some, all steps, all successes, start in minor steps, one at a time. We got this, now let’s work on the rest.” 

USA Today contributed reporting. 

Laura Testino covers education and children’s issues for the Commercial Appeal. Reach her at or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino

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