Topekans celebrates Juneteenth with parade, recognition of liberation


Malachi Lee prefers to throw candy at the crowd rather than hand it directly to people.

Malachi’s candy-throwing skills aren’t usually required, but they were in high demand on Saturday morning as he walked with his father, Duncan, at the Topeka Juneteenth Parade.

It was Duncan Lee’s first time driving in a parade, and his float was arguably the tastiest of the event. Smokers in the back of his chariot were preparing meat for his Smokey Dunks business.

“It’s just good to come together and come together,” he said.

Besides the meat smokers, Lee’s float had a coexisting flag, a Black Lives Matter flag, a breast cancer awareness flag, and the American flag. He wants the community to come together and said it was not just a ‘black parade’.

“Unity is important,” he said. “(I’m) just glad we’re having a parade (to) try to bring Juneteenth back to a suitable place where everyone can enjoy it, understand the culture and appreciate.”

Gregory Bland Jr., left, said Juneteenth is about release.

Dozens of floats with drums, dancers and other local businesses passed through downtown Topeka from Williams Magnet School, 1301 SE Monroe St. Participants walked down S. Kansas Avenue before turning to SE 9th Street and again at SE Quincy Street before returning to Williams Magnet School for the finish.

While some floats handed out candy, others offered haircuts.

Gregory Bland Jr., president of the Midwest Barber College student council and candidate for the District 9 seat of the Topeka City Council, said he was happy to see a wide range of people celebrating the parade.

Bland said the college of barbers held a float in the parade to give back to the community and show them the skills of barbers.

Customers wave as the Juneteenth Parade passes through downtown Topeka.

“The barber himself has been an icon in African American culture,” he said. “It has been an outlet for African Americans for many years.”

Juneteenth is June 19 and celebrates the liberation of black slaves in the United States. Lee said people might understand part of Juneteenth’s story, but they don’t understand how black Americans have been recently oppressed and separated.

Lee said he wanted people to enjoy the parade while understanding the historical significance of the holiday.

“When you talk about Juneteenth, the big word is liberation,” Bland said.

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