Juneteenth615: Experiencing Freedom, Hope, and Harmony

My experience at the 2024 Juneteenth615 celebration at Fort Negley Park was nothing short of empowering. The event was powered by Fellavision Foundation and the African American Cultural Alliance (AACA) and presented by Amazon. Being that it is the largest celebratory event created for African Americans, Fort Negley Park and its historic significance made the event even more impactful.

Fort Negley under WPA Reconstruction, Circa 1938

 For those that aren’t familiar with this historic landmark, Fort Negley is the largest inland stone fortification built for the Union army during the Civil War. The building of this project lasted for five months in 1862. The builders consisted of conscript laborers, runaway slaves and freed African Americans. It was built atop St. Cloud Hill and its location, size and guns discouraged Confederate attacks throughout the war. During the battle of Nashville, December 15th and 16th, 1864, Fort Negley’s artillery aided in driving off General Hood’s forces. The site closed for some time and reopened to the public in 1938. It closed once more in the 1960s. However, it reopened to the public in December 2004, on the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Nashville. Fort Negley remains the largest expenditure of city funds in the nation for a Civil War site.  For more information, please visit the visitors center located on the property.  

Juneteeth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and the Civil War on June 19, 1865. The last group of enslaved people in the Southern U.S. were informed of their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation.  On this day, the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform and enforce what had already been the law of the land for two and a half years. Freedom was finally established for 250,000 people who were still enslaved in Texas. Although African Americans have been celebrating Juneteenth for more than 150 years as America’s second Independence Day; It was first recognized as a state holiday in Texas in 1980 and in 2021 it was enacted as a federal holiday by President Joe Biden.

U.S. President Joe Biden is applauded as he holds the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act during a signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 17, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The Juneteenth615 event was established in 2004. This event celebrates the end of slavery and the beginning of true freedom for African Americans in the United States. Hundreds of people gathered at Fort Negley Park for the celebration. There were various vendors from black-owned businesses in the area. The vendors consisted of food trucks, clothing apparel, art, and educational programs. There was fun and music for everyone across multiple age groups and ethnicities. This year was momentous because it marked the 20th anniversary of the festival and the last reopening of Fort Negley Park.  

Many local artists and performers graced the stage at Fort Negley Park. The event opened with the song, Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday. It was performed by Sage, who is a local artist in the Nashville area. Other performers consisted of Asia Washington, a dancer in the Nashville area; ‘Afrococoroots,’ an African percussive band, ‘Bluephoria,’ a band that fuses indie and rock music; ‘Dj Loso,’ who provided music throughout the event, ‘Brassville,’ a band completely made up of brass instruments; and Milly Rose, a singer in the Nashville area. There were a number of special appearances throughout the event as well. One of which, being Carlos Deford Bailey III. He is the grandson of Deford Bailey who made history as the first performer and African American to broadcast on the Grand Ole Opry stage, playing his ‘Pan American Blues.’ He was also known as the ‘harmonica man’ as that was his primary instrument.  

There were also greetings from our local government officials. The mayor of Nashville, Freddie O’Connell, graced the stage with a few words regarding the significance of this event. Unlike many other politicians who search for political gain at events such as this one; Freddie O’Connell, or as he was crowned by the attendees of Juneteenth615, ”The People’s Mayor,” provided a welcomed sense of authenticity when he was seen genuinely mingling with the attendees of the festival, eating, and participating in the various line dances that were happening. Senator Charlane Oliver gave the proclamation for the event. She also gave a stirring speech about the importance of voting in this upcoming election. Her speech was a reminder that we still had much to overcome as African Americans and why voting could push the fight for equality and freedom even further. Gary Burke is a treasured guest that attends the event every year. He is a descendant of Private Peter Bailey, who was a soldier in the Battle of Nashville. He has attended the festival since 2004. He graced us with the song, ‘Oh Freedom’ and gave us two powerful poems.

What was most captivating at this festival was the sense of community. I attended the festival alone, but I was far from lonely. I witnessed friends reuniting with friends, new friendships being established, and the welcoming of other ethnicities. Love was in the air. The love of community, freedom, laughter, and harmony. I couldn’t help but see a glimpse of hope in what was to come for our nation. As we celebrated this day of freedom, I couldn’t help but think that yes, there is more work to be done in the quest for true equality. However, we have come a mighty long way from June 19th, 1865.  

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