New Pittsburgh Courier

Thousands fill Point State Park, as Juneteenth becomes a national holiday

JUNE 18-20 WAS ALL JUNETEENTH IN DOWNTOWN PITTSBURGH, as thousands converged on The Point to celebrate Freedom Day. (Photos by Courier photographer Gail Manker)

by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer

Over the past eight years, no one in Pittsburgh has fought harder for Juneteenth than B. Marshall.

He took on the city when it tried to bestow on him hundreds of thousands of dollars in security costs for his Juneteenth events, when other events in the city weren’t charged nearly as much. He led the charge in Pittsburgh ultimately recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday. Allegheny County soon followed. Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill designating June 19 as “Juneteenth National Freedom Day” in 2019.

“While Independence Day marks the conception of a free nation, Juneteenth is a celebration of the fulfillment of this ideal through the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Gov. Wolf, in a statement two years ago. “In honoring this day, I encourage all Pennsylvanians to reflect on the struggles and sacrifices our forefathers made to give us freedom, while realizing the importance of continuing to build a nation that truly reflects the self-evident truth that all people are created equal.”

And just six days ago, with the stroke of a pen and a heart of gold, President Joe Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday, the first federal holiday declared since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared in 1983, 15 years after his death.

“Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Jubilee Day. Freedom Day. Liberation Day. Emancipation Day. And today, a national holiday,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in Washington, D.C. before introducing the president.

With all the hoopla surrounding Juneteenth across the country this year, it only made B. Marshall’s Juneteenth celebration larger. Thousands descended on Point State Park this past weekend, with the most attendees coming out on Saturday, June 19, the actual date of Juneteenth, which saw hip-hop legends Big Daddy Kane and Rakim grace the City of Pittsburgh-constructed megastage.

B. MARSHALL, left, organizer of Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth Celebration, with James “Diamond” Williams of the Ohio Players. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“Juneteenth is part of our culture, our heritage, and nobody is teaching that to our youth,” B. Marshall told the New Pittsburgh Courier at Juneteenth, Downtown. “We started (having Juneteenth events) in 2013, but it’s been many people that have done Juneteenth celebrations in Pittsburgh. We just picked up where somebody else left off.”

JUNE 18-20 WAS ALL JUNETEENTH IN DOWNTOWN PITTSBURGH, as thousands converged on The Point to celebrate Freedom Day. In the top photo are Christian DiBoko and Binay Geathers of ProBantu Style. In the bottom photo are Elijah Bullock, 12, and Torey Bullock, 15. (Photos by Rob Taylor Jr. and Gail Manker)

There were Juneteenth events in other areas of the region this past weekend, including at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, in Wilkinsburg, and a re-dedication service by Bethel AME Church in the Hill District, at the site in the Lower Hill where the church originally stood, prior to it being demolished by the city to make way for the Civic Arena.

But Juneteenth in Pittsburgh belongs to the collaboration between B. Marshall and the city, where, for the first time, Downtown streets leading to Point State Park were blocked off, as more than 40 African American vendors sold products to customers all weekend. Gateway Health was also present at the celebration promoting good health and wellness, and UPMC had tents set up to give COVID-19 vaccinations next to the T-station. The line for some barbecue from Uncle Rick’s Smokehouse seemed everlasting, too. Some customers purchased “African King” and “African Queen” T-shirts from ProBantu Style, owned by Christian DiBoko. DiBoko is originally from Congo, in Africa, and came to Pittsburgh in 2016. The year 2021 marks his third year with ProBantu Style as an official business, which also sells jewelry, art, denim jackets and hoodies.

DiBoko called the Juneteenth celebration, in a word, “togetherness. Usually, they use us (in the media) for violence, all those stereotypical things, but they don’t use us for our love, togetherness, hard work. That’s what you see, hard-working people here.”

DiBoko said it was exciting to see “money circulating in the Black community” with all the Black-owned businesses at Juneteenth. “Bringing people together is something I always wanted. Things like this is good for the future of our kids,” DiBoko told the Courier. “To see us coming together for one purpose, enjoying our freedom.”

1-YEAR-OLD KENYATTA sports her Juneteenth shirt, during Juneteenth
at Point State Park, June 19. (Photo by Gail Manker)

Shannel Givner, a Pittsburgh resident, said it was “such an honor to see our city actually acknowledging it (Juneteenth), and to see all of our people coming together, enjoying the music, the food, the fellowship.”

Ron and Teona Williams, Moon Township residents, came down to Pittsburgh to celebrate Juneteenth, with their children. “We have to recognize the African American culture,” Ron Williams said. “The abolishing of slavery is definitely something to celebrate.”

RON AND TEONA WILLIAMS, of Moon Township, celebrating Juneteenth in Downtown Pittsburgh. (Photo by Gail Manker)

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, which established that all enslaved people in the Confederate states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” that didn’t mean slavery instantly ended. A report on the History Channel said that the proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control. Texas had been seen as a place where slavery was continuing, as it was not technically part of the Confederacy. However, on June 19, 1865, U.S. General Gordon Granger went to Galveston, Texas, and read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

HIP-HOP LEGEND BIG DADDY KANE holds the Terrible Towel to the thousands in attendance at Juneteenth. (Photo by Gail Manker)

HIP-HOP LEGEND RAKIM, right, at Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth Celebration, June 19. (Photo by Gail Manker)

It wasn’t just old-school hip-hop on the Juneteenth stage in Pittsburgh. Friday, June 18, saw the Ohio Players, Raheem Devaughn, the Bill Henry Band, the Tubby Daniels Band, Muddy Creek Band, The Flow Band, and Flo Wilson and Old School Band perform. Sunday, June 20, was the Classic Soul Showcase, with Cupid (of the Cupid Shuffle fame), the Youngstown Charisma Band, Shining Star Band, and the bands Motor City and Who’s Bad.

JAMES “DIAMOND” WILLIAMS, an original member of the Ohio Players, onstage at Juneteenth, Downtown Pittsburgh. (Photo by Gail Manker)

 

KDKA Radio personality Chris Moore broadcasted his weekend show from Juneteenth, inside the nearby Wyndham Grand Hotel. Among his guests were Tim Stevens, Chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project.
“I have a friend of mine who is polish,” Stevens told the Courier. “Her father was having a problem at a job because he was polish. You know what they did? They had a family meeting, and they chose an English-sounding name. Black people can sit down and have all the meetings they want, they’re still Black in America. So, we are in a different position, historically, and will be for some time to come. This is a holiday where Black people just need to be able to enjoy their Blackness, history and the positives about being Black in America.”

SHE SAID YES! Melvin McCane proposed to Mylia Stevenson during
Juneteenth, and she said….yes! They are Penn Hills residents. (Photo
by Gail Manker)

ZARIAH LEWIS, 8, has her own business! She was at the Kids Zone during Juneteenth, held at Mellon Park, June 19. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

A YOUNG GIRL plays with legos during the Kids Zone at Juneteenth,
held at Mellon Park, June 19. (Photo by J.L. Martello)