by Jasmine Harvey
Without truly knowing Juneteenth as a child, I was enthralled with the love and camaraderie during my first celebration of this historic and recently declared “national holiday.” Now as an adult I wanted to know more.
On September 22nd, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves from their bonds in the United States. Word of this proclamation reached the ears of former slaves over two years later, on June 19th, 1865.
It was the driving force of the late Senator Maxine Horner and Senator Penny Williams who brought Juneteenth to Tulsa in 1988. Senator Horner and Senator Williams created the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame to help push it forward. Senator Horner wanted black culture to have a voice – one that brings awareness to the trials and tribulations of the Black Community, and local & international talent gave voice and celebration to Juneteenth.
It was in 1994 that Juneteenth became a known holiday in the state of Oklahoma.
I was recently given the opportunity to sit down and speak with two of the organizers of the inaugural Tulsa Juneteenth: Connie Holt-Fisher and renowned Soul Singer and Producer Charles “Chuck” Cissel.
Connie was very excited to announce Senators Maxine and Penny didn’t have many hurdles during the festival preparations as everything was provided by very generous sponsors.
With Chuck pioneering jazz, blues, gospel and local artists to perform. Most of them were national and in some cases international artists. An Induction Banquet Gala as well with an award ceremony for the artists.
Maxine went for help to get the legislature passed and funding secured for Juneteenth celebrations. After getting sponsored by the state legislature the process became easier. Maxine was able to raise about $200k to get started from legislation.
Chuck was the CEO of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. He was heavily involved with putting the programs together for the celebrations. “I brought in talent such as Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis to Wynton Marsalis, Maryln May, Taj Mahal and Eddie Palmieri, a Latin artist. A number of great talents have come through to celebrate with us at Juneteenth and the Induction Banquet Gala.”
I had the opportunity to ask Chuck about his biggest triumphs when Juneteenth came to be here in Oklahoma. He felt it was a “triumphant undertaking and experience for here in North Tulsa. Opportunity for Black folk to celebrate themselves. Juneteenth was when the slaves were freed and the Texas area got the news late. Two years later. That was our Fourth of July. When Connie and I were children we would go to Mohawk park in Tulsa, OK to celebrate Juneteenth.”
“We had to bring what our families made because we could not buy things then. In our lifetime we still couldn’t buy things in certain areas. It was a celebration of African American-hood. That for me was triumphant. I grew up here and we couldn’t even go Downtown.” Chuck and Connie were recalling.
They both concurred that Tulsa at that time was very segregated and for the most part felt they were unaccepted in the downtown area.
I was taken back while listening. It seemed as if it were just yesterday when members of the black community were discouraged to say the least from venturing into downtown for celebrations or a simple visit.
Chuck reminds us to read about what Juneteenth really is. “Learn your history. It’s important for us to know where we have come from in order to know where we are going.”
“Because they will not teach it,” Connie added.
For many of our families still alive today they have witnessed and been on the receiving end of oppression and segregation blatantly by those around them. As an African American Woman, I have personally witnessed this myself.
I have learned so much from my elders and am forever grateful for those who have paved the way for us today. As I listen to them speak of their past and current experiences, I will continue to strive for more knowledge about our history.
Juneteenth has long since been a celebration in the black community and allies alike. If you want to get involved or simply want to learn more about this historic time, research or reach out. With Juneteenth now marked as a National Holiday in the United States in 2021, I hope this is the step in the right direction for many more things to come. Hopefully for the better.
Today I celebrate!
Celebrate your heritage or if it’s not your heritage join in anyway.
Know why you celebrate.