116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — On a hot afternoon, hundreds of visitors took in the sights of Juneteenth at NewBo City Market, with musical performances, balloon animals and a pie-eating contest.
The annual event, hosted by the African American Museum of Iowa, was held on NewBo City Market grounds for the first time.
Juneteenth, the celebration marking when the last slaves finally got word of the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery, was declared a U.S. federal holiday when President Joe Biden signed it into law last week. Iowa has recognized it as state holiday since 2002, and was the seventh state to do so.
LaNisha Cassell, director of the African American Museum, said recognizing the holiday is a good first step.
“Juneteenth has been celebrated for 156 years, so in my mind it’s more of a formality that it’s become a national holiday,” she said. “It’s long overdue.”
Several community organizations set up tables Saturday at the Cedar Rapids event.
Angelina Ramirez, an incoming senior at Coe College who was at a table for Advocates for Social Justice, the Cedar Rapids Black Lives Matter organization, said Juneteenth can be a chance to learn more about the Black experience.
“Use this opportunity to learn, to grow in yourself and understanding the Black experience in American, in Iowa and in Cedar Rapids,” she said. “This is a really awesome time to be able to get connected with a lot of great organizations and nonprofits that are Black-led.”
Harold Walehwa, also a senior at Coe working with Advocates for Social Justice, said it’s important to learn the history behind the holiday.
Juneteenth “wasn’t when enslaved Black people were emancipated,“ he said. ”The Emancipation Proclamation already (had) happened, but Juneteenth is when the last few slaves in Texas were informed, so learning that history is important.“
With a performance stage and booths outside, attendees viewed art by Washington High School students commemorating the holiday on display inside the market.
Ashlee Mooney, owner of Not Anything Specific in NewBo City Market, created a Juneteenth shirt for the occasion, tie-dyed with 1865 on the front — the year enslaved people in Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the date Juneteenth commemorates.
Mooney said the first batch of shirts she produced sold out ahead of Juneteenth, and she was close to selling out more shirts at the event Saturday.
“It’s a little bit on the simpler side, but at the same time (has a) powerful meaning,” she said.
The African American Museum’s Cassell added that laws recently enacted in several states including Iowa banning the mandatory teaching of critical race theory at schools and government entities are suppressing education about the history of slavery and racism.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation into law Tuesday that blocks public colleges and governmental entities from teaching “divisive concepts” such as those that say moral character is determined by one’s race or sex, or that Iowa and the United States are systematically racist.
“We have to be diligent about making sure the education is taught, and if we don’t get it ourselves, we have to do the research ourselves,” Cassell said. “I hope this will be an eye-opening experience for a lot of people, especially people who are just learning about Juneteenth.”
The Gazette was a media sponsor of the event.
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