Celebrate history and culture at Juneteenth festival

Members of the Metropolitan Youth Program of Rock Island, Ill., participate in the Juneteenth Festival in Davenport in this file photo.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Friends of MLK will host the Quad City Juneteenth Festival June 19 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Lincoln Center, 318 E. 7th St. The Diocese of Davenport is a festival co-sponsor.
The diocese’s support of the festival “is consistent with our larger responsibility of being aware of race and the intersection of racial and economic justice,” said Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action.

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. The emphasis of the event is “the history of the celebration and the fact that Black History didn’t begin or end with slavery,” said Ryan Saddler, CEO and board chair of Friends of MLK. “This is our collective history as America. We celebrate freedom by reminding ourselves of our past — the good and the ugly!”

At the festival, families will learn about local Black history, shop with local vendors, enjoy local entertainment and connect with local organizations working to find solutions to the nation’s woes. The festival offers an opportunity for “Black America, White America and all of America to learn our history and celebrate in our culture,” Saddler said.


On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which became official Jan. 1, 1863. The proclamation had little impact on Texas due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Organizers said in a news release that Juneteenth symbolizes for many Black Americans what the Fourth of July symbolizes for all Americans. “For Americans that is freedom. While Blacks celebrate the Fourth of July in honor of American Independence Day, history reminds us that Blacks were still enslaved when the United States gained its independence.”

“The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and its ideal effective date of Jan. 1, 1863, should be the date we celebrate freedom. And rightfully so, many do through bringing in the New Year in celebration at church with a countdown, prayer, singing, preaching … a jubilee service,” Saddler said. “However, the fact remains that soldiers (Black enslaved Americans) were left on the battlefield of slavery until General Granger landed in Galveston, Texas, two and a half years later.”

He said the local Juneteenth celebration started many years ago through United Neighbors. Friends of MLK began organizing the Quad City Annual Juneteenth Festival in 2017.


Diocese encourages support of Black-owned businesses

Duane “Big Cat” Williams, center, owns Big Cat’s Cafe in Muscatine.

The Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Office encourages Catholics to support Black-owned businesses in their community. “So much of what we have a responsibility for in racial justice is becoming involved and becoming engaged in ways we haven’t previously,” said Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action. “Particularly for entrepreneurs of color, we want to draw awareness to what they contribute.”

Ferris said his daughter, Lucy, works at Big Cat’s Café in Muscatine. “When she learned that the diocese was planning to support Juneteenth, she suggested also promoting African-American-owned businesses, of which Big Cat’s is one.”

A list of Black-owned businesses in the diocese is now being compiled. A current listing is available at https://www.
davenportdiocese.org/black-owned-businesses. The Social Action Office asks for assistance in completing this list, especially for businesses outside of the Davenport/Bettendorf and Iowa City metro areas. Send submissions with business name, address, phone number, website/Facebook site and other relevant info to guerrero@davenportdiocese.org.

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