Jack Fennimore
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Juneteenth Day 2019

State and local leaders join community for Juneteenth Day celebration.

By - Jun 20th, 2019 04:51 pm
Juneteenth Day 2019 opening ceremony. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

Juneteenth Day 2019 opening ceremony. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

Despite the cold and rainy weather, people flooded N. Doctor M.L.K. Jr Drive to celebrate the 48th annual Juneteenth Day celebration in Milwaukee.

The street festival and parade commemorates the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the United States, according to the official website. The event dates back to June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas with the news that the slaves were free. This was two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the Confederate states on January 1, 1863.

Milwaukee’s celebration is one of the biggest and longest running celebrations in the country, said Andrea Williams of Jammin’ 98.3 during the opening ceremony.

The opening ceremony celebrated one person in particular, McArthur Weddle. Weddle, 71, worked at the multipurpose community center Northcott Neighborhood House for 42 years – serving as the executive director for 19 years – and spearheaded the Juneteenth Day event in Milwaukee since coming to Northcott, according to the Journal Sentinel. He recently announced that he’s retiring.

“This is a joyous day – little bit sad for me,” Weddle said at the opening ceremony.

Weddle said he plans to stay involved with Northcott even though he’s retiring. Tony Kearney will serve as the interim executive director.

Weddle also announced some new initiatives at Northcott, including a meal program for young people, 18 and under, that gives them breakfast, lunch and a snack every day just for coming to Northcott. They’re also starting a free apprenticeship arborist program that offers training, payment of $8 an hour, and help finding a job upon completion of the certification. Weddle said that anyone interested can call (414) 372-3770.

“Thank you for participating, being a part of Juneteenth Day and making it so successful after all of these years,” Weddle said.

A number of state representatives and common council members also presented citations to Weddle for all his years of work at Northcott. Gov. Tony Evers also attended the Juneteenth celebration. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes noted that Evers is the first governor to attend in a long time.

Evers presented a certificate of accommodation for Weddle for his years of working with Northcott, serving as the president of Juneteenth Day in Milwaukee and serving in many other community leadership positions. Essentially dedicating his life and career to the needs of kids and families in the community.

“Although Mr. Weddle’s extensive community service has been recognized by a slew of honors and awards, including the Milwaukee Living Legacy Award, the Milwaukee Times Black Excellence Award and the Milwaukee Community Journal Academy of Legends Award for Community Service, no single award could capture the magnitude of Mr. Weddle’s innumerable contributions,” said Evers while reading off the certificate of accommodation.

Barnes said that this wouldn’t have been the biggest Juneteenth Day celebration in the country without Weddle and his hard work.

Mayor Tom Barrett came to the opening ceremony to present Weddle with a proclamation declaring it Mac Weddle Week throughout the entire city of Milwaukee. Barrett said that this is the first time, to his and his staff’s knowledge, that the city dedicated an entire week to a single person. He said they couldn’t decide between Juneteenth Day or Weddle’s first day of retirement for the devotion to him.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele also attended the opening ceremony and talked about how he, with the help of Milwaukee County Supervisors Marcelia Nicholson and Supreme Moore Omokunde and Milwaukee County Office on African American Affairs Director Nicole Brookshire, presented and signed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis last May. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said that “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

“You want to honor Juneteenth? Be like Mac [Weddle] and work for justice,” said Abele.

Reparations for slavery was a recurring topic throughout the opening ceremony. On the day of the celebration, Congress hosted a hearing to consider a bill, H.R. 40, that would establish a commission addressing the persisting effects of slavery in America and considering a “national apology” for all the harm it caused, according to The New York Times.

Barnes said that one person who inspires him, aside from his immediate family members, is Vel Phillips. She was the first African American woman to win a seat on Milwaukee’s City Council and become Secretary of State in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society, and Barnes said that she paved the way for him to become the first African American elected as the Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin.

“It’s about more than making history, it’s about making a difference,” said Barnes. “And being the first, I certainly don’t want to be the last.”

Check out our photos of all the fun at the festival below. Also be sure to see our photos of last year’s Juneteenth Day celebration.

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