The 5 Q's: Chalise Cooper discusses canceled Emancipation Park Days

Chalise Cooper

Q: What is Emancipation Park Days in Joplin, and what is its historical significance?

A: We just celebrated Juneteenth all over the country. Basically in Joplin, Aug. 4 is similar. It is Juneteenth, but it’s held on a different date here. Emancipation is celebrated all over the country at a few different times. There’s the Juneteenth celebration that’s held June 19 when it was told the slaves were free. Sometimes it would be celebrated in September because that’s when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. There’s a lot of history behind it.

We celebrate it on Aug. 4 in Joplin because one, it’s been told that it took that long for word to get here that the slaves were free. There’s also been questioning that did the slaves think they were really free, then they can go ahead and go, or at that time, maybe they were told that they were freed but they didn’t have anything to go back to. Maybe they had to stay in the position that they were in at that time because everything came by horseback or word-of-mouth.

Q: How long has Park Days been an annual tradition in the Joplin community?

A: It’s been celebrated in Joplin for over 100 years, and I believe this is the first time in its history that it’s been canceled. There has been talk on whether we should change the date. It is a historical event in Joplin, and a lot of people don’t put the connection together that the Aug. 4 celebration is basically the Juneteenth celebration here. One of the main reasons why we started having it on the fourth was because that’s when the West Indies slaves were freed. Other nearby towns use to celebrate Sept. 22 when President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation happened.

We’re teaching about African American history, culture and achievement. Whenever this whole thing started, it was more of a celebration of the African American community in Joplin coming together to celebrate that they were free. Then, over the years, it has evolved and changed into wanting to teach people about that time and what African Americans went through and have achieved. We try to teach about that through food, music, athletics, sports tournaments and more.

Q: This year’s Emancipation Park Days was initially scheduled for July 31-Aug. 2 in Ewert Park. Why was this year’s event canceled and will there be anything still going on this year?

A: We have a lot of elderly people and children who come out and celebrate. We really want to protect them. Unfortunately this year, we have canceled the event. I’m sure there will probably be people who go down to the park on their own free will to hang out or see a few faces that they haven’t gotten to see.

There are talks of still having the car show, and that would be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1, at Ewert Park. There’s a $15 registration fee. We feel it is very important to acknowledge the event even though it has been postponed. We have been trying to think of ways for the youth to be able to be involved this year but to be safe at the same time. As far as everything else for this year, we have had to cancel. We are in talks of possibly doing things virtually.

Q: How did the charity golf tournament fundraiser go on June 27 at Schifferdecker Golf Course, and how much money did you raise from the event?

A: We actually did really well. We had 18 teams that participated in a four-man scramble. It was a really fun time. We didn’t know how it was going to go because of everything that’s happening, but I think they were ready to get out and golf. In total, we raised around $6,000. What we actually profited was close to $3,000. It’s pretty comparable to what we did last year.

This year, it was actually a lot harder to get things donated and sponsorships because we weren’t sure if we were going to have the tournament with everything shut down. It was kind of last minute when we were notified that we can move forward with the tournament. We were kind of scrambling to get everything in place for it. And businesses are being heavily affected by COVID-19, so a lot of businesses or people who are usually supporters, it was a lot harder this year to get that support.

Q: What are some ideas that you have for next year’s Park Days celebration?

A: Any money or grant funding raised this year will go to next year’s celebration, which will hopefully make it bigger and better than what we’ve had in the past. If it was that hard for people or companies to sponsor the golf tournament because of having hard times, I know it would mean the same thing for the actual celebration.

Park Days used to be a weeklong celebration during the week of Aug. 4. However, as times went on, people couldn’t do a weeklong celebration. Now, the celebration is always the weekend closest to the fourth. If it falls in the middle of the week, then it will be the weekend prior. Next year, we’re hoping to get more live entertainment. Each year, we usually have live music, comedians and speakers. I would like to have more live music throughout the weekend with all different genres. I would also like to incorporate other forms of dance. We definitely want to incorporate more speakers into the weekend. Hopefully, we can just improve and are able to offer new and fun things for everyone. More information can be found on our website at https://www.joplinemancipation.com.

Chalise Cooper is the chairperson of the Emancipation Celebration Committee.