Windsor's Black community marks Emancipation Day at Jackson Park

·3 min read
Emancipation Day celebrations drew huge crowds to Jackson Park in Windsor in the mid-20th century. The Black Council of Windsor Essex is returning to the park for the 2022 Emancipation Day Jubilee, which will include a casual family gathering at the park on Monday. (Irene Moore Davis - image credit)
Emancipation Day celebrations drew huge crowds to Jackson Park in Windsor in the mid-20th century. The Black Council of Windsor Essex is returning to the park for the 2022 Emancipation Day Jubilee, which will include a casual family gathering at the park on Monday. (Irene Moore Davis - image credit)

Windsor's Black community is capping off its five-day Emancipation Jubilee with a family gathering at an important Windsor site.

What's being described as a casual family gathering is taking place Monday at Jackson Park, a location that hosted Emancipation Day celebrations — which drew tens of thousands of people from Canada and the U.S. — in the mid-20th century, organized by the late Walter Perry.

"I just remember the overwhelming excitement that it brought to the city, the huge parades, all of the people, the barbecues, the events at the band shell in Jackson Park," said Leslie McCurdy, chair of the Black Council of Windsor-Essex. "I just remember as a child it being just incredibly exciting."

McCurdy said Monday's return to Jackson Park is intended to pay homage to those events.

Many free citizens settled in area, and the Sandwich First Baptist Church was the first stop for many who had arrived in Canada via the Underground Railroad, the city states on its website.

Emancipation Day marks the anniversary of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, and council treasurer Lana Talbot said a number of events are planned for Monday.

"We're going to have the Freedom Games," she said. "The Freedom Games is when people left the plantation secretly."

"We're going to introduce the youth back to the day when those things happened, and they are going to have to find their way to freedom," Talbot said.

"You had to go through you had to go through Cincinnati, you had to go through Indiana, you had to go through Michigan, and then you had to cross this big Detroit River, that people would tell people ... was 3,000 miles wide."

"When you're running for your freedom, 3,000 miles wide doesn't seem to be so long," Talbot said. "It was just to put the fear in people that before they could cross over to dry land, they had 3,000 miles of water to cross."

Monday's gathering is the last in a series of events the council held over the weekend as part of its Emancipation Jubilee.

They included a screening of the Mr. Emancipation documentary, which focuses on Perry, on Thursday, a dinner and dance on Friday, and an official opening ceremony on Saturday.

Saturday's schedule also included a performance of McCurdy's children's show Harried Is My Hero, a fashion show, and a Caribbean dance party.

Sunday saw a special service and community conversation held at Sandwich First Baptist Church, and Monday's gathering at Jackson Park also included historic walking tours revisiting Windsor's previous emancipation celebrations held there.

"I would like to see emancipation become something that puts Windsor on the map again," McCurdy said. "I'm hoping that we can grow this festival, and it would be nice if we could ... get to the point where Walter Perry was, where we can pay black people to actually put the festival on, pay people to cook, pay children to help with the festival, pay artists to come and perform and help to put some money into the black community, to build our community economically within the larger community as well."

Talbot added she'd like to see the parade return in the future, as well.

"We're going to show people who we really are, that what we had has not been lost," she said. "It's just been put on the shelf, just for a little time because now people are finally realizing emancipation isn't just for black people, it's for all people."

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