The yearly festival, which celebrates the freeing of the last slaves, attracts thousands with quality local music, food and business.
Pookie (pseudonym) walks briskly down W. Chambers St. at the south end of Clinton Rose Park as the sun begins to set on Juneteenth Day. A gaggle of Milwaukee police turn down a nearby alleyway but Pookie walks on, un-phased. “Born and raised here, right here on the east side,” he says. “I didn’t have no momma — momma was a crackhead — so, you know what I’m sayin’, I sold drugs.”
Darlene Rogers gracefully covers a stretch of sidewalk pavement followed by a brightly colored, flowing dress, the Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Juneteenth Day celebration behind her. Rogers who grew up in the neighborhood points down the block to the house where she lived. “I haven’t been down here in a couple years so it was nice to come out and see familiar faces,” she says calling the occasion “an out-of-body experience.” “It’s like the cycle just keeps repeatin’ itself.”
Dave Wroten lounges against a concrete sidewalk border on West Chambers Street in the waning hours of Juneteenth Day. The 54-year-old Wroten remembers a time when things in Milwaukee, where he was “born and raised,” were different. Wroten grew up on 10th and Locust. “It was beautiful,” he says. “That’s when black people actually had black establishments and, you know, you neighbor was your lawyer … That’s when black people knew black people.”
Ken Brown II grew up the oldest of four on Milwaukee’s north side. The 32-year-old who attended Washington and Milwaukee High School of the Arts was brought up in a house that emphasized heritage. “I was involved with a lot of drumming, a lot of African culture,” he said. Brown, who’s been drumming since he was 4, said they always used to play at Milwaukee festivals like Juneteenth Day and African World Fest.
If you ask Eric Berry where he grew up, he’ll tell you “everywhere.” Berry has lived in neighborhoods all over Milwaukee from 95th and Beckett to 3rd and Burleigh and 3rd and North. As a result of moving around – and some other factors – Berry attended a number of different schools, as well, including Northwest Secondary School and Bay View and Custer high schools. “I just didn’t like the schools I was going to because I was always getting into trouble…not, like, big trouble but I always stayed in trouble.” But cooking has always been a constant for Berry. And after graduating in 2013, he enrolled in culinary school. “I’ve been in the kitchen since I was 9 years old,” he said. “I just like playing with food.”