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Donaldsonville Juneteenth Festival queens share history of celebration

Michael Tortorich
The 2019-2020 Donaldsonville Juneteenth Festival Queens were special guests Thursday at Donaldsonville City Hall. Mayor Leroy Sullivan gave gifts to the guests, who shared Juneteenth history during the bi-weekly live update. Shown back row, from left, are: Event Coordinator Tamiko Francis Garrison, Mayor Sullivan; front row: Little Miss Queen Raenn Patterson, Miss Teen Queen Malayah Millien, and Miss Queen Skye Taylor.
Photo by Michael Tortorich

The reigning royalty of the Donaldsonville Juneteenth Festival presented the history of the annual commemoration during Mayor Leroy Sullivan’s bi-weekly live update.

Sullivan welcomed Miss Queen Skye Taylor, Miss Teen Queen Malayah Millien, and Little Miss Queen Raenn Patterson to City Hall Thursday to share the importance of the holiday, which has been celebrated in Donaldsonville since 1996. The mayor gave each a gift of the Donaldsonville version of Monopoly.

Tamiko Francis Garrison, who is the co-coordinator for the event, has carried on the legacy of her parents, the late Bernard J. Francis Sr. and the late Janet Gaines Francis. 

“B.J.” Francis was the first elected African American mayor of the City of Donaldsonville since reconstruction. He was a military veteran and a distinguished Juris Doctor. Janet Francis served the community as a teacher.

They collaborated with the River Road African American Museum, which is based in Donaldsonville, to organize the annual event. Museum directors Kathe and Darryl Hambrick, along with many volunteers, have assisted with the festival through the years.

Garrison has carried on her family’s tradition by coordinating the festival with the help of dedicated committee members. A manager for the special investigation unit of Louisiana Health Care Connections, she also serves as coordinator for the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council. She founded Ascension Parish Women Movers and Shakers as well.

In recent years, Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Allison Hudson has served as co-chair of the event with Garrison.  

“It continues to be a family-oriented festival and it remains free and open to the public,” Garrison said.

Though the Juneteenth Festival and the city’s Third of July celebration has been canceled this year due to limitations of Phase 2 reopening, Garrison said festival organizers are looking forward to celebrating the 25th anniversary next year.

“Twenty-five years is a long time, and we’re very proud of that,” she said.

Juneteenth is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth. The holiday is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day.

The celebration originated in Galveston, Texas on June 19,1865 when Union army general Gordon Granger announced the emancipation of slaves.

Through the years, the celebration spread to neighboring southern states. Most states and major cities in the United States celebrate the holiday. Currently, activists are campaigning for Juneteenth to be recognized as a national holiday.