Germantown festival teaches Juneteenth history

The Finest Drill Team and Drum Corps performs a drill routine at the Juneteenth National Freedom Day Celebration. — TRIBUNE PHOTO BY SAMARIA BAILEY

Historic Germantown’s Johnson House held its Juneteenth National Freedom Day Celebration, on June 21, celebrating the 146th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, the bill that ended slavery.

The event included a parade, drill and drum performances, Black soldier re-enactors, storytelling and music — all in an effort to wholly celebrate the liberty of African Americans.

“The issue of freedom is never over, it’s always changing,” said Cornelia Swinson, Johnson House executive director. “We need to continue to work together and keep the history in front of us, not behind us to tear us apart, but as a way to bring us together.”

The festival began with a morning parade, featuring the Finest Drill Team and Drum Corps. They marched for more than a mile, from the 5100 to the 6300 block of Germantown. Upon their arrival at the final stop, they performed original drill routines.

“It teaches them discipline, respect and gives them confidence,” said Finest founder, Kyneith Lamb. “[And] it helps kids not be on the streets, but keeps them doing something positive.”

Throughout the day, bank representatives, including Wells Fargo, were available to talk about “financial literacy” and “establish relationships” with the community. A non-profit, the Business Center, was also represented — informing about their programs, including an upcoming “Youth Money Camp: How to Raise a Reallionaire.”

Other vendors sold handmade clothing, African jewelry, soul food and African-American history books.

“It’s an outstanding event. It really brings the community together because a lot of times people don’t know each other,” said George J., a Germantown resident. “[And] it’s an opportunity to vend or purchase, which is another way of supporting the community.”

Historic features of the celebration included an informational table on the “first licensed African-American pilot” and the 3rd Regiment Infantry United States Colored Troops Civil War Re-enactors.

The re-enactors presented a history of Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War and held discussions with the audience about specific details, like the Emancipation Proclamation.

Re-enactor Larry Harris said there were several reasons why Blacks joined the military, mainly “because they were promised money and land.”

He named “freedom” and the push to “fight the tyranny of the South,” as motivators used to encourage Blacks to fight but that “some fought on the side of the Confederacy because they were told ‘this is our land.’”

Yusef Dingle, a Germantown resident, was one of several who stopped by this particular table.

“You want to know as much about yourself and your culture as you can — where you come from and why things are the way they are,” Dingle said. “I’m learning more details about parts of history I was already aware of.”

Denise Valentine, a storyteller who shared African-American stories at the event, said such cultural knowledge was important for other reasons as well.

“It is important for us to remember our history,” she stated. “We owe this to our ancestors to preserve their memory.”

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