DISC jockey Rickey Fontaine feels his role in Columbus’ annual, free Juneteenth celebration beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday along Fourth Street downtown stretches way beyond cool beats.
It also includes something of the heartbeat of history of African Americans, and how genres such as rhythm and blues and jazz fit into that timeline. Which explains why he’ll play artists from as far back as Etta James and as recent as Kendrick Lamar as the musical backdrop for the entertainment of an event that he calls “an honor to be a part of.”
Juneteenth, which the Columbus/Bartholomew County Area Chapter of the NAACP has celebrated since 2002, marks the official end of slavery in the United States when the last slaves were released in Galveston, Texas, in 1865. The day, now made a federal holiday (on Sunday) carries such an emphasis for some local Black residents that they have said that it in some ways means more to them than July Fourth because their ancestors were not free when the country marks its birthday.
“I see this as a celebration of culture and American history,” said Fontaine, who first learned about Juneteenth as a young student visiting The Children’s Museum in Indianapolis years ago.
Last year’s local Juneteenth celebration became the largest ever. Before the event finished, organizers estimated the overall attendance to be 600-plus, though some later said the estimate should have been amended to perhaps even 1,000 people from various ethnicities amid music, food, informational booths and more. That’s far more than previous years of an estimated 150 to 200 people gathering at local parks.
That attendance figure last year was seen as all the more significant because a heavy rainstorm ceased only minutes before the event opened along Fourth Street.
This year’s gathering includes several food vendors such as Bea Pennybaker, Blessings International, and more, plus other vendors such as Mikala Lomax of Mik Mocha Apparel — creating custom handmade items since 2016 exposing social, political, and economic injustices. Mik refers to her first name, and Mocha references her Black ethnicity. She mentioned that such events create some of the few in-person platforms for her work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
She discovered Juneteenth about six years ago, and has since helped create its local logo.
“It’s important to have a day of celebration and liberation,” Lomax said. “And it’s also important to have a day in which we can say that we’re still continuing to fight (for freedoms).”
She is passionate about the celebration’s meaning and impact — and the fact that Juneteenth celebrations should be significant to everyone — especially if whites, Asians, Latinos and other ethnic groups truly care about equality.
“Everyone’s liberation is somehow intertwined with and dependent upon everyone else’s,” Lomax said. “If one person is oppressed, we all potentially could be oppressed.”
Columbus native and Indianapolis resident Alyse Tucker Bounds, a graduate of Indianapolis’ Herron School of Art and Design, is bringing something new to the local Juneteenth — an art exhibition, part of which will run through year’s end, to Gallery 506 inside the Columbus Area Visitor’s Center at 506 Fifth St. downtown beginning Saturday. The display highlights 11 artists of color amid 20 different works.
“I grew up around postmodernist architecture and small-town Midwestern energy,” Tucker Bounds said. ” I’m excited to bring something new to my city. By representing the artists in the area and also bringing in new talent from Indianapolis — we are curating a show that Columbus has never seen before.”
The exhibition previously has been shown in Indianapolis and Houston. Hannah Paz-Westbrook formed a collective called One Drop with Tucker Bounds for these kind of educational efforts.
“People of color (specifically Black and Indigineous people) are the architects and engineers of culture in the United States,” Paz-Westbrook said. “From Mesoamerican temples to the pyramids, many of our best practices and even popular culture trends can be traced back to ancient civilizations. We want to give credit where it’s due, and what better way to bring education and culture to a city than through fine art?”