The yearly festival, which celebrates the freeing of the last slaves, attracts thousands with quality local music, food and business.
Kevin Carlton stands just outside a cluttered garage south of National Avenue in an alley off of 47th Street. Carlton, who displays tattoos from under a cut-off white shirt, has only been in Milwaukee for two years, but it’s been a long road here. “I grew up in a rough family; my dad died when I was 2 — he got hit by a drunk driver on the freeway and mom raised five of us,” he says. “I was the youngest one out of the clan, so, I really didn’t have a chance to miss him. But, you know, earthquakes and the beaches — I love the beaches; that’s all I miss. California is full of people, too crowded.”
Coleone Davis canvasses the intersection at 35th and Burleigh, sign in hand, hoping for some extra cash. On this hot summer afternoon, Davis rests on a shaded bench in front of the eastbound stoplight of West Burleigh Street. “You know how you fall sometimes? I want to get back up to where I was. And this ain’t me. This ain’t me,” says Davis, who has been out of regular work for about a month.
Ronald Franks dances, unafraid of prying eyes, on the corner of 35th and Clarke, twirling what he refers to as his “adrenaline stick,” a flexible, four-foot-long cane with a tassel on top. Franks, who sports a double-breasted leather coat and leather fedora, is no amateur when it comes to strutting his stuff. “I’m a dancin’ fool,” says Franks. “Dancin’ is what does it for me.”
Reuben Coleman grew up in Cleveland, Mississippi, during the 60s in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. “There were the riots going on and the marching and all that old type of stuff.” But it didn’t take long until Coleman decided to move on. At 19 he left his hometown with a taste for adventure, making stops in California, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas before ending up in Wisconsin.