June 19, 2010 by JSOnline — “Mother Love,” a vendor at Milwaukee’s Juneteenth Day celebration for 12 years, had an instruction for customers seeking to buy ribs and turkey legs from her stand at Saturday’s event.

“Look at the painting,” she said.

Next to her service table sits a painting of black women harvesting crops in a southern field. The woman, who would identify herself only as Mother Love, said she pulled the painting from a wall in her home and propped it next to her table.

“I want these people to have a conscious mind out here,” she said. “They still don’t get how bad they treated us down there.”

The thousands of people who attended Saturday’s Juneteenth Day parade and festival helped make history in their own right. Milwaukee residents have had public celebrations of Juneteenth Day since the 1970s, but Saturday’s festival was the first that was an official Wisconsin state holiday.

In December, Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill making Juneteenth a state holiday, though one that does not provide a day off for state workers.

Mac Weddle, executive director of the Northcott Neighborhood House, worked for years to get the state to recognize the holiday. Several black lawmakers helped push the measure through the Legislature last year.

Celebrating freedom

The holiday recognizes the day in 1865 when word reached slaves in Texas after the end of the Civil War and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Milwaukee has one of the country’s largest Juneteenth festivals. Organizers say the celebrations commemorate freedom and promote education and achievement among African-Americans.

Volunteers with Milwaukee’s Running Rebels Community Organization sold T-shirts that translated the message for some of the younger attendees. The shirts said: “No Hating within 50 feet.”

A few festival-goers said they were weary of violence that sparked after a couple of recent Juneteenth celebrations, but police didn’t report any incidents Saturday. Milwaukee police officers and volunteer security workers were visible throughout the festival.

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Dawn Powell, a vendor with the Growing Power community farming group and veteran Juneteenth Day attendee, compared the effort to create a state holiday to the movement that made the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. a federal holiday.

“It’s a wonderful thing and it should have been a holiday when it started,” Powell said. “It takes a lot of people working together to make it happen.”

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