Donaldsonville to celebrate day of freedom

Leslie D. Rose @DvilleNewsie
Students perform at the 19th Annual Juneteenth Music Festival, 2015.

On June 4 and June 5, The City of Donaldsonville will host its annual Juneteenth Music Festival.

Juneteenth is the holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in June 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African-American slaves throughout the Confederate South.

The holiday is observed primarily in local celebrations, and Donaldsonville, steeped in black history, has been hosting a festival in its honor for 20 years.

With roots in the Civil War, and the electing of the country's first-ever African American mayor - Pierre Caliste Landry, in 1868 during the Reconstruction Era - Donaldsonville's early population is a result of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Born a slave on the Prevost sugar cane plantation in 1841, Landry wasthe son of Marcelite Prevost, a slave and cook, and Roseman Landry, a white laborer. He was sold at auction, at age 13, to the Bringier family, who owned 35,000 acres on various plantations. It is believed that he was purchased as the property of Louis Amedée Bringier, who was born on and had inherited theHermitage Plantation in Ascension Parish.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, effective Jan. 1, 1863, declaring that all slaves be freed in the Confederate States of America. Unfortunately, it would be two years before word traveled to everyone.

The Civil War, which began on April 12, 1861 ended on May 9, 1865. By its end, Landry had married and moved with his family to Donaldsonville, which became known for having the third-largest black community in the state.In the postwar years, manyfreed-men were migrating from rural areas to towns in order to establish their own communities, trades and businesses independent of white supervision. It is noted that they also found more safety in their own communities.

With all of that history, residents of the city knew they had to honor Juneteenth. The first year that the city honored the celebration was 1996, under the direction of former mayor, B.J. Francis with the help of his late wife, Janet Ganes Francis. The Juneteenth committee - made up of various members throughout the years - has carried on the tradition locally through the efforts of the River Road African American Museum and others in the community. In 2011, the City of Donaldsonville, in conjunction with Tamiko Francis Garrison, Allison B. Hudson and Councilman Oliver Joseph has kept the tradition going.

This year's celebration will be held Saturday, June 4 and Sunday June 5, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., both days in Louisiana Square on Railroad Ave. The event is comprised of music, dancing, poetry and educational presentations. Vendors will also be on-hand selling food, drinks, fashion items and jewelry.

As part of the musical line-up, Michael Foster, will present various bands displaying different genres of music, including jazz, R&B, funk, hip hop, blues, brass and a special surprise tribute a late musician.

"People can expect a musical journey," Foster said.

Foster said that he has been involved with the festival for many years, including its earlier years, when his now popular and well-known band, The Michael Foster Project, was just starting out.

"I started performing when Mrs. [Janet] Francis started the festival," Foster said. "We were a young band at the time and she gave us the opportunity to play one of the first Juneteenth festivals. Now in recent years, after her daughter took over, we've been playing - I don't even think she knew her mom had us play in the past."

Using music as a vehicle to celebrate Juneteenth makes a lot of sense to Foster, who said that music is an important component in freedom.

"Music is the perfect avenue to celebrate Juneteenth," Foster said. "We all know that music is the soundtrack to life - we receive a lot of information through music and it has power. When you play it through the message of freedom and Juneteenth, what people come away with is that they're there to hear the music, but the underlying theme is what we're celebrating and why - it opens up the conversation and leads to research."

The celebration will begin with an opening prayer and the history of Juneteenth, and will close with a gospel celebration.