Juneteenth, a national holiday every June 19 celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States, also became a holiday in the city of Clarksdale.
Mayor Chuck Espy made the announcement with the proclamation during the Juneteenth I.N.V.E.S.T. Fest by Blues Alley Café on Delta Avenue Friday night. The event was also an opportunity to support local businesses owned by African-Americans.
Espy praised Higher Purpose Co., a non-profit organization supporting black entrepreneurs, for bringing all of the businesses together and explained the importance of the Juneteenth holiday locally.
“A lot of people during these trying times sometimes can get it twisted,” Espy said. “They can think that this movement is about being anti-white or being anti-certain people and black power to suppress other people. It’s not true. This is about equality. This is about stepping up to where I have seen for over 30 years of economic injustice for contractors in the city of Clarksdale. Not one minority contractor in over 30 years has had a seat at the table in the city of Clarksdale. In this administration, we have had over 40 percent of minority contractors to have a seat at the table. That is important.”
Clarksdale native Brandon Taylor, who is currently an academic coach at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, helped organize the event. He spoke about Clarksdale being known as the home of the Crossroads.
“In contrast to Juneteenth, we like to think of the Crossroads as the next thing,” Taylor said. “What I mean is when our ancestors heard of freedom, they came into the Crossroads. What was next? Most of them left Texas and came into the place called the Mississippi Delta and heard about the lumber and the good things that grow on his soul and came and cultivated this place we call home.”
Taylor said the Crossroads was also a place where people fought for the Civil Rights movement and equality.
The Birthplace of American Music Festival part of the weekend did not proceed as planned due to the coronavirus, but musicians including Lucious Spiller, The Lady Trucker, The Southern Soul Band and Queen Iretta and Johnie B all played at the Juneteenth I.N.V.E.S.T. Fest.
BAM Festival co-founder JeCorrey Miller said things could have gone better Friday, but they still went well.
“We have a nice little distanced crowd where everybody was spread out and kind of enjoyed the show,” Miller said. “We’ve got some great entertainment. I think it turned out OK. Next year, we can’t wait until it gets bigger and better.”
Miller said plans are still in the works to have the BAM Fest in the fall and people should go to https://bamfestms.com/ to support the event.
“We want to thank everyone that came out and sponsored. We want to let people know this is going to be going on every year,” Miller said.
Rep. Orlando Paden was at the Juneteenth I.N.V.E.S.T. Fest and praised the manner social distancing issues were handled.
“I think they’re handling it very well. I think they’re following the CDC guidelines,” Paden said. “We’re just happy to have this event going on today.”
The state legislature will come back in July and meet until as late as October to discuss the COVID-19 situation. The state received $1.25 billion from the federal government and is trying to budget the money.
“One big thing is we have taken millions of dollars to help fund our small businesses and our minority businesses,” Paden said. “They will have a small cutout of $40 million. Half of this is going to help with the economy. We’re also going to be working with our public schools. We’re also going to be working with our health departments. We’re also going to be working with our hospitals. We’re putting plans together and stuff to do that.
“It’s going to be a process. There’s no fix overnight. This is a learning situation for all of us.”
After the legislative session, Paden said organizers of festivals in Clarksdale would have better idea of how to proceed.
“We will be trying to see what we can do,” Paden said. “Some festivals have been cancelled like Red’s Old Timers Blues Festival because of the COVID season.”
Paden said it must be taken into consideration that coronavirus numbers are increasing throughout the state.