June 19th is Juneteenth ... but what is Juneteenth?
People will pour into Kansas City’s historic 18th & Vine District this weekend to celebrate the rich cultural history of African Americans. And rightfully so. All Kansas Citians should be proud of that history.
But the commemoration should stretch far beyond area African Americans' contributions to jazz, barbecue and baseball.
The seventh annual Juneteenth Heritage Festival is Saturday, as is the opening of a nationally touring exhibit at the Black Archives of Mid-America Inc.
Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of slaves. And Kansas City is home to the second largest celebration in the nation.
The late Horace Peterson III, founder of the Black Archives of Mid-America Inc., championed Juneteenth in Kansas City. His daughter, Makeda, is director of JuneteenthKC, a nonprofit that host events year-round to promote the celebration of African-American culture.
“For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights” opens from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Black Archives. The exhibit traces how images and media disseminated to the American public transformed the modern civil rights movement. Alvin Sykes, a Kansas City-based civil rights activist, is scheduled to appear.
Those events are welcome. But lessons about the contributions from African Americans in Kansas City should be woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, said Erik K. Stafford, owner of KC Tour Company, a business that highlights local African-American history.
“Without black history, there is no American History,” Stafford said. “We need to stress that and local history.”
Luminaries such as Hiram Young and places such as the Underground Railroad site at the Quindaro Ruins in Wyandotte County and the Penn School marker in Westport are just a few examples of the strength and courage of blacks from the area.
Young, a successful entrepreneur, built stage coaches in Independence in the 1850s. The Penn School was the first built west of the Mississippi River exclusively for the education of black children.
And Quindaro thrived for decades as a home for hundreds of former slaves and their descendants. It also became home to the first African-American university west of the Mississippi River.
The story of Douglass Battery at Fort Leavenworth is also worthy of attention. The Douglass Battery was the only federal unit to serve entirely under the leadership of black officers.
So while folks enjoy weekend festivities that mark the impact of African-American culture in Kansas City, they should keep in mind those contributions are not limited to the confines of the 18th & Vine District and once-a-year celebrations.