Saturday, June 19, 2004

Festival growing, but funds haven't

Juneteenth honors freedom from slavery

By Maggie Downs
Enquirer staff writer

WALNUT HILLS - Lydia Morgan grew up patriotic, her heart swelling each Fourth of July.

But she wondered.

What: 17th annual Juneteenth Festival
When: Noon-9 p.m. today
Where: Eden Park
Cost: Free
Call: (513) 631-7289
"Even in my little child's mind, I couldn't figure out why we would celebrate our country's freedom from Great Britain, but not our freedom from slavery," she said.

Morgan didn't know about Juneteenth, the national observance of June 19th as African-American Emancipation Day, until she visited a friend in Phoenix.

"The event was tiny," she said. "But the feeling generated was so amazing."

Morgan returned to Cincinnati and, with a group of friends and supporters, started a local celebration.

Now in its 17th year, Juneteenth has moved from a small gathering at Drake Park to Mirror Lake at Eden Park and draws crowds of up to 7,000. The popular summer party, with the theme "Love, Peace and Harmony," is noon-9 p.m. today.

"The festival has always been a really grass-roots expression and appreciation of freedom," said Cecelia Holm of Kennedy Heights, who has attended since the beginning.

The event, however, is still struggling to make ends meet financially. The celebration costs about $15,000 to put on. This year Morgan has raised about $4,500.

That money has come from corporate sponsors, the Cincinnati Park Board and private citizens. Entertainers have agreed to perform for less money.

"It's heartwarming in one way, but in another way it's disappointing that we can't give them the money they deserve," Morgan said.

She is still hoping a major corporate sponsor will step forward.

The family-oriented event will feature music, food, arts and crafts, along with the popular sweet potato pie contest. New this year will be a freedom quilt, created from 100 quilt squares to be made by festivalgoers.

Morgan also hopes to see a presence of local police and firefighters.

"This festival to me is so much about bringing the Cincinnati community together with all the crazy stuff that goes on in the city," Morgan said. "You make a real statement when you say, 'I'm celebrating the fact that slavery is over in America.'

"Whether you are black or white, that's a big statement."

Someday, she hopes that Juneteenth will realize its full potential.

"I teach young kids, 10-year-olds. And you know that moment where the child really gets something? That's what it's like," Morgan said. "When we can accept the fact that slavery happened, it's over, and we are glad it's over, we'll all have that awe-filled moment."


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