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'We've got to start somewhere': First Juneteenth in the D festival held in Detroit

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Detroit — The new Juneteenth national holiday was something Dorothy McClure was unsure would ever be formalized but remained hopeful that the day Black slaves were freed in America would be honored.

Despite the rain that dampened and scattered attendance at the inaugural Juneteenth in the D festival in Detroit on Saturday, McClure and her sister felt the celebration should go beyond the African-centered vendors and music on hand. The historical significance of it is paramount, she said.

"I am so happy. At least it came and people are beginning to recognize it. We've got to start somewhere," said McClure, 72, of Oak Park. "This is a first step. Our culture is so rich and so beautiful, and this is a wonderful way of displaying that. I love it!"

Dorothy McClure, left, takes a snapshot of her sister Jeweleen Kelly at the mirrored exterior of Dabls Mbad African Bean Museum during the inaugural Juneteenth in the D festival in Detroit on Saturday, June 19, 2021.

Signed by President Joe Biden into law on Thursday, Juneteenth is the federal recognition of the emancipation of Black slaves in 1865, two years after then-President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation document during the country's Civil War.

For subscribers:Detroit, Michigan played key roles in ending slavery. Here's how

More:Explainer: The story of Juneteenth, the new federal holiday

Lincoln's document, however, only ended slavery in the southern states that had seceded from the union, not the northern ones. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery in all of America.

McClure said it's sad that Americans don't know or haven't been taught the proper history of slavery, especially in light of the raging debate between Republicans and Democrats in Congress and across the country over how to teach race in school systems.

"It's sad that after all these years, over 400 years they still don't understand how painful it is," she said.

At 77 years old, Ellis Martin of Livonia said the freedom of slaves and the controversial history surrounding it "was not taught at my elementary school."

"We got Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and that was basically it," he said. "I just found out about Juneteenth maybe four or five years ago. I'm being educated."

Martin said he's disappointed in how education about the ills of slavery, the freedom and the struggles for Black Americans after have not been emphasized enough."

Olivia Bell, 74, of Detroit, said some White Americans "just chose to forget" about the evils of slavery.

"They want to have to pretend as if they all did good and they was perfect and never did anything," Bell said. "We've got a lot of negative history."

Martin said the topic makes most people uncomfortable "to talk about and when we do talk about it, people are ill at ease, especially those who have benefited from slavery. And they do not want to admit that, saying they made it on their own ability. ...

Olive Bell, left, and Ellis Martin look at the sculpture garden at Dabl’s African Bead Gallery for the inaugural Juneteenth in the D festival in Detroit on Saturday, June 19, 2021.

"But in fact, if you go back in history, you had a leg up over folks that didn't look like you," Martin added.

Melissa Heinig, 44, of Howell, who is White, came out to the festival with her 7-year-old daughter, Tenley, who has been learning about Juneteenth and slavery in school.

"And she came home and she was devastated," Heing said of her daughter. "She was just like, 'Mom, why did this go on, why did that happen?' How do you explain that to a 7-year-old? But it is important and I think people should know about it."

Jewerlean Kelly, 73, of Detroit, an older sister of McClure, said she's elated about the Juneteenth holiday but has mixed feelings about it all.

"The older you get you realize all that we have gone through," she said. "You get more educated on it. I am happy, thank God, that they have finally done this. It took all of this, George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter. ... It took all of this so people could recognize. And I hope that it continues."

In a statement, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy weighed in on the Juneteenth holiday.

"I have family in Galveston, Texas, and there Juneteenth has always been prominently celebrated and revered," she stated. "Many other states and cities across the United States and the world have done the same — including many communities in Michigan. It is music to my ears that finally in 2021, it is a national holiday and everyone is talking about it."

Meanwhile, McClure said she hopes America get through its racist past with history being taught truthfully to foster understanding and growth.

"I pray, I pray we do," she said. "We had to have someone to help us. I appreciate everything that the White and Black and whoever did something to help us get to where we are today. But we've got a long way to go."

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter:@leonardnfleming