Milwaukee's Juneteenth celebration always starts with an important ceremony

The libation ceremony thanks those who paved the way
Posted at 6:25 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 19:27:59-04

MILWAUKEE — Juneteenth is an African-American holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.

Milwaukee is home to one of the longest-running Juneteenth Day celebrations in the U.S., and every year a specific ceremony kicks off the festivities: a libation ceremony to honor those who came before us.

Celebrating Juneteenth

"Our ancestors, those whose shoulders we stand on, who made it possible for us to be here. We're asking them to be with us again," Tyrone Dumas said.

Dumas has performed this ritual many times at Milwaukee's Juneteenth Day Parade. It starts by pouring liquid on the ground as an offering, then by making a speech, asking for guidance from those who have passed.

"Pour libation and say for all of you who would like to call out an ancestor that made a difference in your life, please do," Tyrone said while pouring water onto the ground. "Somebody may call out 'my grandmother' and we say 'I shay.'"

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Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum Executive Director Clayborn Benson believes the ceremony brings people young and old together.

"We become connected with our past and we are connecting with our decedents of the future through libation," Benson said.

This is a tradition that dates back to ancient times, and will be performed on a day when we celebrate freedom.

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"Let the ancestors know that wherever you are on the other side, that we thank you and we are cherished by that which you've done to make our present possible," Dumas said.

This year, the Milwaukee Juneteenth Day parade celebrates its 50th anniversary in-person and on-air on TMJ4.

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