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  • Writer's pictureAmy Sherman

Celebrate Juneteenth across Michigan

It's a different kind of road trip this week for Behind the Mitten, as we travel by holiday, to learn all about Juneteenth, a federal holiday that occurs each year on June 19th. In a nutshell, Juneteenth marks the final emancipation of slaves during the Civil War. In reality, its history is more complicated. Today, Juneteenth is a day of celebration and education for all Americans. On this episode, we talk with a variety of guests about different places around Michigan that hold special significance for African American history and culture.

We kick off the show with Chris Grier, who shares with us both the history and significance of the Juneteenth holiday. Grier is the historian for Idlewild, a historic African American community located near Baldwin. Grier was both born and raised at this special spot, which is known as the "Black Eden of Michigan". His grandfather was a founding member of Idlewild. We discuss with Grier the importance of Idelwild to its members, and to the African American community as a whole. We also discuss how a certain movie brought attention to Idelwild's history, but also completely got the location wrong. Idlewild is in Michigan, not Georgia.

Then, we meet with Cynthia Jones, who is the Director of Museum Experiences at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. Did you know that the bus that Rosa Parks sat down in and helped galvanize the Civil Rights Movement is right here? You can even climb on to experience history firsthand. We talk about why items of cultural significance are so important, and how The Henry Ford has integrated bus #2857 into their exhibit "With Liberty and Justice for All".

Annie Kelly from the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau stops by and we discuss the long history that the Underground Railroad had in this part of Michigan. Known as a safe stop for escaped slaves, usually on their journey to Canada and freedom, Calhoun County, which includes Battle Creek, Marshall, and Albion, now boasts several tributes to this time in history. We talk about the Underground Railroad memorial that you can experience here and is pictured above, as well as a 12-foot-tall statue of activist Sojourner Truth. This incredible woman ended up calling Battle Creek her home for the last decades of her life and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.

We close out this special show with Dr. David Pilgrim of Ferris State University.  He is one of this country's leading experts on issues relating to multiculturalism, diversity, and race relations, and is the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum. The museum uses objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice. Through the exhibits, it contextualizes the impact of Jim Crow laws and customs. It's a difficult topic, but one that is very important to study and learn from, so history doesn't repeat itself.

Dr. Pilgrim has personally collected most of the artifacts and has developed a traveling exhibit so more people can experience this moving message. He is also working on a permanent spot to house the collection on Ferris' campus. 

Admission is free at the museum.

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