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Juneteenth Parade Recreates History

From Stony Island to Rainbow Beach, 79th Street will be transformed into the Freedom Trail — with a recreation of slave quarters and Harriet Tubman leading a group of slaves to freedom — for the 10th annual Juneteenth Freedom Parade and Celebration on June 18.

Sponsored by the Coalition to Improve Education in South Shore (CIESS), the parade will feature floats honoring African American heroes, with a “Sounds of Freedom” battle of high school marching bands at the subsequent celebration.

“Wanted” posters for runaway slaves will hang along 79th, and Harriet Tubman will be portrayed leading a group of fugitives from South Carolina (at Stony) to Canada (at Rainbow Beach).

The youth group God’s Gang will premier their new traveling exhibit, a recreation of slave quarters featuring actual livestock and plants common in the Antebellum South — reflecting the group’s work with public housing children on ancestral research, urban agricultural, and African crafts and dance. Actors in costume will portray period characters.

“African American families don’t talk about slavery,” said Lestine Byars of CIESS. Often children “have no clue where we came from, that we are a strong people and we have overcome. We need to understand our history better — and stop all this foolishness out here.”

Bringing together 10 local schools in arts and sports festivals as well as Kwanzaa and Juneteenth celebrations, CIESS has worked for 18 years to improve education in South Shore, a neighborhood recently shown to have “the least amount of educational opportunities for students” of any in the city, Byars said.

The group is currently working to demand community input in CPS decisions on school closings and reorganizations.

Two years ago, CIESS initiated the successful call to make Juneteenth a state holiday, celebrated on the third Saturday in June. Juneteenth is traditionally the day when slaves in Texas learned of their emancipation.

The Juneteenth Freedom Parade kicks off at 79th and Stony at 10 a.m., and the celebration at Rainbow Beach Park continues all afternoon.

On Thursday, June 16, CIESS sponsors a Freedom Ball at South Shore Cultural Center, 71st and the lake, featuring scenes from the period (including the depiction of a slave ship), with attendees encouraged to dress in period costumes. “We’re trying to make history vivid,” said Byars.

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Category: history, South Shore

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