African drummers filled Buffalo’s Genesee Street on Saturday as the Juneteenth Festival parade approached the stage.
Black empowerment songs, live music and dance routines brought spectators from across the country to Genesee Street, Best Street and Fillmore Avenue, where the parade route passed through Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
Spectators and walkers shouted “I love black people!” and “I’m black and and I’m proud!” in unison, commemorating the holiday of June 19.
Juneteenth in Buffalo
The June 19 parade’s return after a two-year hiatus appeared to be exactly what the doctor ordered for the city’s east side, still grieving from last month’s racist massacre.
James Brown’s “Say It Loud” blasted through loudspeakers everywhere. Parents took photos and videos of their children playing with the Royal Rockettes and Crusaders. Onlookers cheered as the many pro-black organizations marched through the streets.
The Afro-American Police Association was a spectacle during the parade with their marches and chants. Wegmans employees held signs that read “Stop Hate. End Racism. Choose Love.” Mayor Byron Brown, along with Attorney General Letitia James and Governor Kathy Hochul marched with red, black and green Pan-African flags.
Buffalo’s June 19 story
When it comes to preserving black culture, Buffalo has been ahead of the curve. While Juneteenth didn’t enter many people’s lexicon until recent years, Buffalo has recognized it since 1976.
Thanks to BUILD of Buffalo, William Gaiter, Judson Price and longtime Buffalo Juneteenth President Claudia Sims, the party has been a Buffalo staple for nearly 50 years, beginning as a response to American plans for a bicentennial celebration.
The emancipation of slaves officially took place on June 19, 1865, but it took the murder of George Floyd in 2020 to bring June 19 more recognition across the country. Some cities still do not recognize it.
But the Buffaloniens do it. Black people look forward to the Juneteenth festival every year, from floats and performances to vendors along MLK Jr. Park.
Buffalo’s Jewelean “Jewel” Magee was a kid when the town held its first Juneteenth festival. His parents then did not allow him to attend the parade. But Magee remembered when the festival started at MLK Jr. Park, with a huge carnival.
“That was off the chain!” said Magee, who interned at the Democrat and Chronicle in the 1980s.
“The Shock of Reality”
Vietnam veteran Jerry C. Bowman acknowledged the importance of Juneteenth to Buffalo
Especially now, after the May 14 tragedy at the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue — or Black Main Street — where a racist white man with tactical gear and an assault weapon allegedly killed 10 black women and men and injured three others. .
“I think we had a reality shock, that we need to look out for each other and pass on this knowledge,” Bowman said.
Bowman is a 75-year-old Buffalo native who graduated from East High School in the city. He’s attended every parade since he started on Jefferson 46 years ago. It was the first big event that black people looked forward to.
“It was a shock to the system,” Bowman said.
Along with Amvets Post #65, Bowman and others gave away free books at the Juneteenth festival. They called it the Johnetta R. Cole Black Book Lending Library. Their goal was to provide access to black books and black authors in the dark and racist times that pervaded the east side of Buffalo last month.
“This critical race theory erases what these people are talking about, so we’re giving it back,” Bowman said. “We can’t do everything, but one thing we can do is pass on this knowledge.”
Email Marquel Slaughter at [email protected] and follow his Twitter @MarquelSports.