MACON, Ga. — The United States is marking the nation’s second Juneteenth federal holiday this year, but Macon has been celebrating the event for 30 years.
Organizer George Muhammad launched the first celebration in 1993 and helped educate the public about the significance of June 19 in American history.
More than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 to free enslaved peoples, Union soldiers arrived with the news in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. The community held the first Juneteenth anniversary freedom celebration the following year.
“It’s very gratifying and exciting that people are beginning to respect and learn about the great depth of the significance it really does have for us, and grow through coming together with various communities,” Muhammad said Thursday.
The organization, whose name stands for “Bringing African Americans Downtown,” was founded after a night of violence about a year and a half ago.
A barrage of more than 40 bullets on Cherry Street on Thanksgiving night in 2020 killed one woman and injured several others.
In the aftermath, downtown’s reputation also took a hit just after the city sector was beginning to thrive again as a hub of activity and nightlife. A renaissance was underway following decades of relative dormancy when suburban shops and restaurants were siphoning off customers.
Local businessman Alex Habersham wanted to do something to encourage more folks to visit the new downtown bars, restaurants and businesses that were bringing the heart of the city back to life.
Project BAAD was born out of that initiative.
“Downtown was kind of getting a bad image,” Habersham told the Downtown Macon Community Association this week.
“Originally we wanted to dispel the image that downtown wasn’t safe, it wasn’t for everybody and there weren’t things to do,” Habersham said at the meeting. “I think that we were successful in doing that.”
Food trucks, music and dancing were the catalysts to “promoting and familiarizing the public with the dynamics of downtown Macon,” according to one of the flyers.
Habersham sees the gatherings as a “festival-type block party” held on the third Saturday of the month through October this year.
“Project BAAD is for everybody, particularly for downtown merchants because we all need to join together and make sure downtown continues to grow,” Habersham told the downtown merchants.
“I think it’s phenomenal what you’re doing with Project BAAD,” said Downtown Macon Community Association Chair Peyton Jeter.
When this month’s event fell during the Juneteenth celebration weekend, Habersham thought it made sense to combine resources instead of hosting a competing event.
“I just thought it was the right thing to do and additionally send a signal that whenever possible we should do things together,” Habersham told The Macon Newsroom Friday. “The more we can come together and do things together and support each other, the better for the community.”
Sponsorships and support from local foundations fund both the Juneteenth Freedom Festival and Project BAAD.
“We’re able to do a lot with a little and this year we’re able to do a lot more,” Muhammad said.
Donations are welcome, but there is no charge to attend the festival in Tattnall Square Park that runs from 2-9:30 p.m. on June 18 and noon to 9:30 p.m. on June 19, which also is Father’s Day. Other Juneteenth events are scheduled beginning Saturday, June 11.
The first day of the closing weekend celebration features the Kuumba Artists exhibit, cultural and food vendors, historical displays, a Black Union soldiers living history presentation and The Magnificent Sisters of Dance Showcase. The music lineup for the 18th includes Troy Dillard & The Mob, The Middle Georgia Jazz & Blues Allstars, Divine Divas of Soul, Johnny Hollingshed, Baatin & Top Secret with The Butcher Brown Band headlining the event.
Festivities on Sunday, June 19, include a Father’s Day tribute, exhibits, vendors and historical presentations. Live music begins at 3 p.m. with various artists scheduled until 9:30 p.m.
A percussion Master’s Workshop is planned June 19 at noon with Lil John Roberts and Mino Cinelu, but registration is required by calling 478-718-8067.
In the main music performance, Cinelu will be featured in Roberts’ Fusion Ensemble performing music from Herbie Hancock, Weather Report and Miles Davis.
Muhammad, who sees Habersham as a mentor, is excited about this year’s collaboration.
“It shows unity and support,” Muhammad said. “It is very positive for the community for us to come together and magnify what we’re doing on Juneteenth.”
Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 478-301-2976.