Milwaukee holds the distinction of hosting one of the oldest Juneteenth celebrations in the country. This year marks the city’s 50th anniversary of the annual event, which honors the day in June 1865 when the Union Army brought word of the Emancipation Proclamation to Texas, freeing the last of the country’s enslaved African Americans.

The Milwaukee Juneteenth Day Celebration kicked off at 8 a.m. on 14th Street and Atkinson Avenue, then traveled to Burleigh Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The community-wide event, with various family-friendly activities throughout the day, included live music, kids’ games, exhibits, soul food and more.

RISE Cycles held its first ever community bike ride to celebrate Juneteenth. It began and ended at Sherman Phoenix. Alice’s Garden Urban Farm had various activities, including the planting of a community garden in honor of Nelson Mandela. And, a basketball matchup between young adults 15-20 years old and Milwaukee Police Department took place to improve community relationships.

Led by Northcott Neighborhood House and the Juneteenth Day Executive Committee, Milwaukee has been drawing thousands since 1971. Northcott Neighborhood resident, Margaret Henningsen, celebrated Juneteenth in Georgia and brought the idea to Milwaukee.

In 1972, the Milwaukee Journal reported an estimated 3,000 attendees at the Juneteenth festival. That number grew to 100,000 by 1977 and has swelled between 160,000 and 170,000. The coronavirus pandemic caused the celebrations to be canceled in 2020. 

“It’s not a Hallmark-branded holiday in any way. Juneteenth is an oral tradition like no other that is shared across generations, and it shows how, in spite of what some people say, Black people have not lost hope in who we are,” Rob Smith, a Marquette University professor and historian, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We have not lost hope in the U.S. democracy. It signifies that we are full citizens of this country.”

Madison photographer Amadou Kromah captured images from the 50th annual Milwaukee Juneteenth Day Celebration.