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Celebrating Juneteenth In The Miami Valley Then And Now

Dayton Juneteenth Celebration.jpeg
Basim Blunt
Communities around the Miami Valley will celebrate Juneteenth this weekend.

This Saturday Dayton and many communities across the Miami Valley will hold Juneteenth celebrations that mark the end of slavery in the United States. Eichelberger Center for Community Voices Senior Producer Basim Blunt interviewed local historian Larry Crowe to get some details about Juneteenth.

Local Juneteenth Celebrations:

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):

Larry Crowe (LC): Basim, how are you doing?

Basim Blunt (BB): Thank you, Brother Larry Crowe, it's always a pleasure. Juneteenth is one of those holidays that — can we say hasn't gone mainstream yet?

LC: Well, to white people is probably still mysterious, but Black communities have embraced it all over the country. On January 1st, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the people who were enslaved by the Confederates who are fighting against the union army. That was a tactical move by Lincoln. Lee surrendered to Grant on April the 8th, 1865, in Virginia, but there was still fighting going on in the West.

In Galveston, General Kirby Smith, commander of the Confederate Army, surrendered his forces to Gordon Granger. He was on the veranda on a villa. He makes a proclamation to announce to all enslaved people that they were free. In doing so, he went way beyond what the Emancipation Proclamation actually did.

BB: How did he do that?

LC: Well, Emancipation Proclamation didn't say anything about equality, just that you won't be enslaved anymore. Juneteenth takes place in 1865, that's two years later. There are old editions of the Dayton Forum newspaper online that cite Emancipation Day celebrations and going back to the nineteen-teens. Sharlese Johnson used to own this big Victorian mansion that we used to call the castle on the West Side. She hosted a candlelight dinner in honor of Emancipation Day. So it was going on at least through the 40s. And I don't know why it disappeared. When I was growing up, we didn't have it.

BB: It's not just our holiday, but it's a holiday of freedom. And that's what America is supposed to be about. It's our Fourth of July, would you say?

LC: Yeah. I mean, as long as we frame it in the sense that it's not a recognition of largesse, you know, not that we don't appreciate benefactors and allies, right. But we have capacity. And they couldn't keep us in slavery, not because somebody got nice it's because they just couldn't do it. Our allies helped us. But if it hadn't been for us, you know, if we were natural slaves, we'd still be slaves.

BB: So this year, Juneteenth falls on a Saturday, which is good. You know, I do my show on Friday nights. Maybe I can put together a playlist of freedom songs. What was the best Juneteenth celebration that you recall? Has it happened yet or is it going to happen this year?

LC: It's probably going to happen this year. We're having Juneteenth at what used to be Dayton View Park. We're now calling it Liberation Park. That starts on the evening of the 18th and then on June 19th all day. And there'll be speakers and food and vendors and that's all, you know, locally organized. I'll be at another one Saturday night downtown at the Levitt Pavilion. So we'll all be at the park on Broadway. Then later on that evening, you know, at the Levitt Pavilion.

BB: I know know here in Yellow Springs, the village council did a formal resolution that Juneteenth, be recognized.

LC: There was actually a little known Emancipation Day bill that was signed into law by Bob Taft in 2006.

BB: You know what? I just I just thought about this. It's a paid holiday for everyone that works at WYSO. So kudos to our leadership here at WYSO that this is on our paid holiday list.

LC: That's great.

BB: And traditionally, Juneteenth is celebrated in June. So it's a barbecue day. If you're doing something with grandpa and the grandkids and everybody, I know Black folks don't need a reason to barbecue because especially in Dayton, that's part of our culture.

LC: TYou know, I'm a kind of a spoilsport, I guess, in the sense that, you know, if people are barbecuing - if I come around, I'm going to be talking about [the fact that] we freed ourselves and having that conversation. Why are we celebrating a time when some white people freed us? You know, I said, well, that's not really it. We don't think about it that way. We don't think about the role that we played in our own liberation.

BB: Thank you, Brother Larry, for being a guest on WYSO

LC: You're most welcome.

This interview was produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.
Additional production by Lovely Nalls.

Basim has worked in the media for over twenty years, as an A&R rep with Capitol Records and as a morning drive show producer. He is a filmmaker, media arts adjunct, and also a digital editing teacher in the Dayton Metro area. In 2012 he joined WYSO as a Community Voices Producer, and his work has earned him a “New Voices” Scholar award by (AIR) Association of Independents in Radio. Basim has produced the award-winning documentary Boogie Nights: A History of Funk Music in Dayton. He also served as Project Manager for ReInvention Stories, a multimedia docu-series produced by Oscar-winning filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. In 2020, Blunt received a PMJA (Public Media Journalists Association) award for his WYSO series Dayton Youth Radio, for which he is the founding producer and instructor. Basim spins an eclectic mix of funk, soul, and classic R&B every Thursday night from 8 p.m to 10 p.m., as host of the 91.3 FM music show Behind the Groove.