Juneteenth Freedom Festival connects youth to roots

Staff Writer
Donaldsonville Chief
Children follow an African Stilt walker to the stage during the annual Juneteenth Freedom Festival Saturday afternoon.

"That is a bad man right there," said 11-year-old Antoine Jackson of Donaldsonville as children chased an African Stilt Walker through Louisiana Square during the annual Juneteenth Freedom Festival Saturday afternoon.

Standing over nine feet, the stilt walker danced for the children, but his sheer height was too much for some.

The day kicked off with the placement of a wreath on the granite memorial commemorating the Union Army's African American soldiers amongst riders on horseback.

Varnal Jackson, vice president of the Buffalo Soldiers' Donaldsonville organization said the group was incorporated in 1866.

"This organization is made of military people," Jackson said. "All branches. We are representing the Buffalo Soldiers. They have a lot of history and it is not known. That is what we are trying to do. Get it known. We are trying to stir up a dust so someone with more power can take it on."

After stopping at the memorial, riders made a grand entrance into Louisiana Square on horseback. 

"You need the horses every year," said Troop Perkins. "There is a lot of participation."

Perkins said the spirit of horseback riding is symbolic with freedom.

At the corner of Railroad Avenue and Nicholls Street, parish councilman Oliver Joseph was busy slicing ribs while conversing on a cell phone. Joseph lit his pit that holds 20 racks of ribs at 6 a.m. 

"I got some grub here on the west side," Joseph said. "(Parish president) Tommy (Martinez) is over here with me."

Martinez said if the barbeque wasn't good, he would have told Joseph and joked that he wanted a refund because he didn't get any sauce.

Not far from the Thibaut Memorial Fountain, Reggie Francis Jr. was busy mixing butter, onions, bell peppers and fresh peeled crawfish "with the fat" for a etouffee.

"It is good," said his father, city councilman Reginald Francis. "Did you taste it."

Francis said Reggie never cooked anything when he lived at home, just got into it and loves it.

"It is all about family," Francis said. "That is really what Juneteenth is about."

City Councilman Charles Brown said it is always a good time to celebrate freedom.

"It is a history," Brown said. "It is our story of how we overcame and sacrificed. Freedom always comes with a price and Jesus paid the ultimate price. We don't take it for granted."

Mayor Leroy Sullivan said Donaldsonville has a lot embedded in the festival.

"It gives us the opportunity to learn about the history of African American culture but it is not just about that," Sullivan said. "It is about people coming together. It brings a lot of people into the community."

River Road African American Museum curator Kathe Hambrick Jackson said the festival is a family event. 

"This is a signature event for the state," Jackson said. "I can safely say we have the largest Juneteenth Festival in the state."

Jackson said the museum's mission is to educate, as evident by a genealogy workshop that kicked off the festival.

"(We) celebrate opportunities we have as African Americans and understand the importance of staying in school and voting," Jackson said. "Those are two of most important freedoms we have."

"This is a lot of work for our volunteers but I am happy the community supports it."

The Shack Brown Drill Team performs in the Talent Show Friday night.