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In St. Petersburg, Juneteenth celebration a time for cultural learning

Miyonni Davis, 4, looks at her spin art painting at the Juneteenth Family Festival in St. Petersburg’s Campbell Park. The festival this year included a traveling collection of artifacts.

KENNETH L. HAWKINS JR. | Times

Miyonni Davis, 4, looks at her spin art painting at the Juneteenth Family Festival in St. Petersburg’s Campbell Park. The festival this year included a traveling collection of artifacts.

ST. PETERSBURG — His drum was a small plastic bucket swathed with imitation kente cloth. In place of a stretched animal hide, a piece of rubberized plastic topped the instrument.

"I want to make it look like it was really made in Africa," said Kahlon Hill, 11, his fingertips thick with tacky glue.

Around him in Campbell Park Saturday afternoon, children and adults made brightly colored African head scarves and beaded jewelry. On the stage, gospel, jazz and hip-hop groups crooned. And in the ballfield, grown men wore old-style baseball uniforms to replicate a game from the Negro Leagues.

They were at this year's Juneteenth celebration, commemorating June 19, 1865, when Union troops marched into Galveston, Texas, to tell the slaves they were free.

President Abraham Lincoln had actually issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, but it took three years for the news to reach Galveston. When it did, they were so happy that they had a celebration.

One hundred and forty six years later, Sunshine Edmond of St. Petersburg echoed their joy.

"For us to be free today, it means a lot to us —we don't take it lightly," said Edmond, who volunteered to help children make the imitation African drums.

"This culture is very rich. We have to keep it alive."

Older residents who attended the daylong festival marveled at how it has grown. For once, the festival stretched nearly the entire length of the park, full of booths hosting small business owners, food vendors, health exhibitors and nonprofit agencies.

Among them was the local chapter of the African American Firefighters Coalition. It had a booth with photos of the first local black firefighters.

"They helped put us on the job. Here we are trying to put that back into the community," said St. Petersburg firefighter Rob Henderson, 53.

For the first time this year, the festival included a viewing of the Sankofa African American Museum on Wheels. The collection included artifacts like hangman's nooses, 18th century public auction notices for slaves, metal ownership tags and slave chains.

As a young man, A.J. Ali, a filmmaker and entrepreneur from St. Petersburg, would get angered by the sight of such things. Saturday, the 52-year-old headed earnestly for the exhibit.

"It's part of our history," said Ali. "You can't grow if you don't know where you came from."

Luis Perez can be reached at (727)892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com.

In St. Petersburg, Juneteenth celebration a time for cultural learning 06/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 18, 2011 10:34pm]
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