Lake County’s Juneteenth celebration continues to grow; ‘A recognition … of the time we decreed all people are created equal’

Lake County’s Juneteenth celebration continues to grow; ‘A recognition … of the time we decreed all people are created equal’

Celebration of the end of slavery in the United States continues to grow in Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion since Juneteenth — June 19 — was first recognized as a legal holiday locally in 2019, and nationally in 2021.

With Juneteenth on a Wednesday this year, celebratory events began with a three-day festival in North Chicago on Friday, and continue with events through the week, concluding with the final historic bus tours on June 22.

Historically, June 19, 1865, was when news of the slaves’ emancipation was announced in Galveston, Texas, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth Waukegan
Steve Sadin/Lake County News-Sun

A Juneteenth flag was unfurled at a Waukegan City Council meeting a year ago. (Steve Sadin/For the Lake County News-Sun)

“We must continue to recognize and acknowledge the history of African Americans in this country as a testament to our growth from over 400 years of slavery, Jim Crow and being considered 3/5 of a human being, to reaching great heights including the presidency of the United States,” Waukegan Township Supervisor Marc Jones said.

Highlighting the events are the expansion of the two original happenings — a festival in North Chicago and a historic bus tour — stretching over nine days, with the three-day Freedom Festival Lake County and six journeys by bus to historic sites in the area.

Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 Board of Education President Brandon Ewing, who has worked on Juneteenth events for several years, said not all employers give workers the day off. A week of events gives everyone a chance to celebrate, he said.

“Juneteenth is a recognition and a celebration of the time we decreed all people are created equal,” he said.

The Juneteenth Freedom Festival was scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Foss Park in North Chicago celebrating the end of slavery in the United States with food, music, discussions and family-friendly activities.

Shaquita Blanks, the program manager for the Freedom Festival organized by the Greater Waukegan Development Coalition, said expanding the event to three days — 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday — expands opportunities for people to participate.

“Everyone enters through the history tent,” she said. “It takes you through the evolution of the day of jubilee from (the Emancipation Proclamation in) 1863 to June 19, 1865, to when it became a national holiday in 2021.”

Lake Juneteenth

Children play at a Bouncy House during a Juneteenth celebration last year. (Steve Sadin/For the Lake County News-Sun)

Once participants go from the history tent onto the festival grounds, Blanks said they can taste foods from 17 vendors, peruse goods from 16 African American merchants and listen to music, as well as other entertainment and discussions taking place on stage. There are inflatables for children.

Event coordinator Jessica Zavala said the historic portion of the festival is important, as are the food, entertainment and socializing. It goes beyond celebrating freedom to the participants themselves, she said.

“All people should celebrate their freedom day,” Zavala said. “It helps grow support for the community. It’s a great American experience. It’s pretty cool.”

Admission to the grounds is free. Blanks said there is a $5 charge for entering the area with pony rides and a petting zoo, as well as $30 for concerts in a separate gated area Saturday and Sunday.

Grammy nominee Jon B will give an urban soul concert at 7 p.m. Saturday and Kindred the Family Soul will play at 6 p.m. Sunday. Among the food selections, Blanks said there will be barbeque, authentic West African food, desserts, snacks and more.

Some of the events on the free stage will be musical and artistic, while Blanks said others will be of a more serious nature like poetry readings and panel discussions about mental health, navigating and expressing boundaries, media politics and Black intimacy.

Starting with a single historical bus tour to significant spots in Waukegan and North Chicago three years ago, Sylvia England, founder of the African American Museum in Waukegan, is doing six this year — two focused on Zion and four on Waukegan.

New this year, England said the Zion tours start at 10 a.m. and noon Saturday at the Leisure Center in Zion. Zion was founded by John Alexander Dowie in 1901 to be a utopian city. Participants will see several sites significant to Black history, like the Mt. Zion Church.

“Most of the Black churches in the area today sprung out of Mt. Zion,” England said. “The pastors started there, and they founded other churches in Waukegan and North Chicago.”

A pair of tours will take place at 10 am. and noon Wednesday and again on Saturday starting at Bowen Park in Waukegan and ending at the museum. England said there are some changes from previous years.

England said the first stop will be at the Waukegan Public Library, where people will learn about ways to do gemological research so they can trace their family’s roots, in some cases before arriving in America.

From the library, England said the bus will go to Oakwood Cemetery where participants will learn about some of Waukegan’s early Black residents, including those who were once enslaved. Next on the trip is Trinity AME Church, the first Black church in Waukegan. The tour ends at the museum.

A Juneteenth celebration takes place from 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the museum featuring music, food and tours. England said there are some new exhibits including items from Nigeria and Ghana.

Other Juneteenth events include a celebration from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, a freedom walk at 5 p.m. Monday starting at the Grayslake Public Library and a celebration at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Waukegan Public Library.