Exploring Juneteenth's Chattanooga connection among events for newest federal, city holiday

A year after Juneteenth became a federal and city holiday, several groups in the Chattanooga area are marking the occasion with organized events.

Juneteenth, short for June 19, is the day in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that all enslaved people had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier. Legislation to make it a national holiday gained momentum after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed. President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17, 2021.

Here's what some Chattanooga event organizers have planned.

- Chattanooga Festival of Black Arts & Ideas: This monthlong event, which was established in 2018 to encompass Juneteenth, continues with several activities over the holiday weekend. In a phone interview, festival founder and CEO Ricardo Morris said the celebration of Juneteenth "had not landed sustainably in Chattanooga" when he conceived the festival.

"The idea of Juneteenth was first - and trying to figure what would be the best way to celebrate it," he said. "Being as passionate about the arts as I am, it was a natural pairing. (The festival) celebrates freedom and community and gives (Black artists) a platform so that everyone knows the breadth of Black artistic expression."

Among the weekend highlights is the inaugural Juneteenth Freedom Run and Mrs. Opal Lee Walk, named for the "grandmother of the movement," as Biden nicknamed the Texas resident who walked from her home in Fort Worth to the nation's capital in 2016, when she was 89 years old, in an effort to get national recognition for Juneteenth.

Sunday, the festival is collaborating with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for a concert by "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard at Chamberlain Field on the UTC campus. The show starts at 7 p.m. and will open with a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Earlier Sunday, a Father's Day jazz brunch in Miller Plaza will serve as a reminder that "Black dads matter." See the full lineup of events at blackartsandideasfest.com.

- Chattanooga State Community College, 4501 Amnicola Highway, will hold a Juneteenth celebration 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Activities include Soul Aerobic line dancing, Black culture trivia, African drumming by Kofi Mawuko and an ancestry walk. Participants will be able to create poster boards with slogans and are encouraged to wear T-shirts that honor loved ones. 423-697-2409

- The Bethlehem Center, 200 W. 38th St., will host its second annual Southside Juneteenth Jubilee 1-4 p.m. Saturday. The free event includes food, music by DJ MC Pro, spoken-word poetry and vendors. thebeth.org

- Thankful Memorial Episcopal Church, 1607 W. 43rd St., will dedicate and bless the new Ed Johnson Capstone Memorial in the church garden after the 10 a.m. service Sunday (around 11 a.m.). The capstone memorial was created to honor Johnson after the replacement of the sanctuary roof. Johnson worked as a stonemason on the sanctuary before being lynched from the Walnut Street Bridge in 1906, according to an email from the Rev. Leyla King. thankfulmemorial.org

- Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park will present a ranger-led hike at 2 p.m. Sunday to learn the role played by U.S. Gen. Gordon Granger in the Battle of Chickamauga, including the critical stands he led at Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill, and his role in Juneteenth. It was Granger who led the federal forces who delivered the message of freedom in Texas. The program will start at the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center, 3370 LaFayette Road, Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., and caravan to Snodgrass Hill to start the hike, which is just under a mile. nps.gov/chch

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.