By Ryan Richardson
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Hundreds of people headed to Ewert Park over the weekend to celebrate the 150th Emancipation Day as part of the annual Emancipation Park Days festival in Joplin.
Organized by the Emancipation Celebration Committee, the annual event cites the legacy of the black community in Joplin while focusing on family-oriented events throughout the weekend. Festival organizer and committee Treasurer William Kean said that while the celebration serves as a historical marker, it also is a homecoming and reunion event.
“Ewert Park was the center of the historically black neighborhoods, and a lot of people from outside of the city come back on this weekend as a homecoming,” Kean said. “Because of the 150-year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we are taking extra time on focusing on how we got to where we are today and to celebrate what everyone in this city can build together. We’re proud of this tradition.”
The three-day celebration kicked off Friday night with a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by Patrick Barham. Barham dressed in full Abraham Lincoln regalia. The opening also included a dance at the main pavilion in Ewert Park.
Saturday’s events included a car show, a dominoes tournament and a performance by the Kansas City Marching Cobras’ drum line. Kean said that many of the weekend’s events crossed over with the Route 66 International Festival, which was also staged downtown.
“We had a lot of new faces that were taking part in events for both festivals, and it was a welcome addition,” Kean said. “This weekend is all about sharing history and culture, and having a great time, and with the Route 66 festival here, it has made that easier. It didn’t take anything away from us, it made it bigger.”
Over 2,500 attendees are expected over the three-day Park Days event, which has steadily grown over the past 10 years, according to car show organizer Ted Johnson.
“Word is getting out, and it is turning into a community event that really brings out the best in everyone,” Johnson said. “We are so family-oriented, and that is something everyone can celebrate, white or black. This is a festival rooted in unity, and to recognize the struggle to get where we are today. We’ve worked hard to get to this point, and you can see the positive outcome all weekend long.”
The weekend celebration will wrap up today with a free swim at Ewert Aquatic Center from 1 to 3 p.m., and a kids’ picnic at 3 p.m. At 5 p.m., there will be a demonstration by METS personnel including a MedFlight critical care helicopter. At 7 p.m., the Theo Reynolds Blues Revue will take the stage and play to wrap up the festival. All events will take place at Ewert Park.
“We are really kid-focused on Sunday, and it is great to build that bridge to the younger generation on the final day,” Kean said. “So many of them are learning about African-American history like this for the first time this weekend, and we really like to get them out to educate while we celebrate.”
Emancipation Park Days has nearly a 90-year history in Joplin’s Ewert Park, with the first celebrations taking place in the 1920s.