Juneteenth – A Celebration for All
Pape Ndiaye: Hi, this is Pape Ndiaye, and we are listening to Aldersgate OnAir.
Mike Peacock: Welcome back, friends, to Aldersgate OnAir. In honor of this year’s upcoming Juneteenth festival of the Carolinas here in Charlotte, we have invited two very special guests to speak about the significance of this holiday and how is it shaping modern culture. Before we introduce them, we’d like to give you a brief history on the origins of Juneteenth.
On September 22nd, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order called Proclamation 95, otherwise known as the Emancipation Proclamation. On January 1st, 1863, this proclamation went into effect officially changing the legal status of over 3.5 million enslaved Africans and their descendants in the Confederate States to free.
However, it wasn’t until two and a half years later that Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now in fact free. It is this date (June 19th, 1865) that represents the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States and has become known by its more popular name, Juneteenth.
Joining us today is Pape Ndiaye, a Senegalese immigrant and the owner/operator of House of Africa, an amazing art gallery and shop, locations in both Charlotte and New York. In addition to running his shops, Pape is the founder of Charlotte’s Juneteenth Festival and has been its lead organizer for over two decades.
Also joining us is Charlotte historian and author of Sorting Out the New South City, Tom Hatchett, who provides some additional depth and perspective to the growth of Charlotte and how the Juneteenth celebrations have impacted the city and the outlying area.
Please welcome (to Aldersgate OnAir) Pape Ndiaye and Tom Hatchett. Hey, Pape. Hey, Tom. Thank you so much for joining me today. It’s an honor to have you both here.
Thank you very much for having us.
Tom: Great to be here on the magic of the interwebs.
Mike: [Laughter] The magic of the interwebs. Yes, it is quite magical that it allows us to be in multiple spots at one time, for sure.
Before we roll into all of the awesome stuff that we’re going to talk about, if it’s okay, I’d like to give the listeners a little bit of background on each of you. Pape, let’s start with you. Tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are, where you came from, and what brought you to Charlotte.
Pape: Well, my name is Pape Seydou Ndiaye, but they call me Pape. I was born and raised in Senega, West Africa, and came to America, first in New York City in 1994. I opened up my first shop called House of Africa in Manhattan and, two years later, opened up House of Africa in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Mike: Yeah, so you’ve been here for quite some time. As soon as you got here, you’re like, boom, I’m going to open up some stores.
Pape: That’s right. That’s right.
Mike: What made you want to get into the retail sector and have a shop? What was the inspiration behind that?
Pape: That wasn’t my profession, but the love of art. I’m a banker by profession, but my love of art and sitting behind the desk eight hours a day—
Pape: –I came to New York City and to America and opened up my first shop, an art gallery, African art gallery, in New York and opened up the second one in Charlotte, North Carolina. I just love the art, that’s why, and also to bring our rich heritage and powerful culture to spread around the world.
Mike: Yeah, and I watched you walk through your shop as we were kind of getting connected today, and it looks quite vast. Do you directly import all of those items that you have? How do you get all that cool stuff?
Pape: I go all over Africa from north to south to east to west. You name it, I’m there bringing the stuff here. That’s why the store, yeah, it is 2,000 square feet full of stuff from art that come from all over Africa, old and contemporary. We have pieces here that are a thousand years old. We have pieces that are made last week because I just got back from Senegal in South Africa three weeks ago.
Mike: Yeah, so you’re hand-carrying a lot of that stuff or shipping it.
Pape: No. We ship them by container.
Mike: Oh, okay.
Mike: Gotcha. Tom, how about you? Give us a little bit of background on yourself.
Tom: Well, I’m a community historian here in Charlotte. I worked for Levine Museum of the New South for a long time and, before that, for the Historic Landmarks Commission.
I live in Plaza Midwood, right around the corner from House of Africa. Charlotte is becoming an immigrant center in this century. But I was just amazed to find Pape’s store on Thomas Avenue.
In the ’90s, it pretty bedraggled. Today, Plaza Midwood is bustling, and having that center for people who are interested in African culture, there’s always somebody interesting in that shop. It’s one of the things that has made Plaza Midwood a really special place in the time that I’ve been a neighbor.
Mike: Yeah. Am I understanding it correctly that you, sir, are an author?
Tom: Yes. I wrote a wonderful book. I will hold it up so that your radio friends can see it. [Laughter] It’s called Sorting Out the New South City, and it’s a history of Charlotte and how this became a Bay City. It came out in a new second edition from UNC Press this year. The folks at Aldersgate have been really kind and invited me to come over and talk about that history at Aldersgate.
Mike: Awesome. I understand that you either took less or took no royalties to allow it to remain cheaper and more accessible for people. Is that correct?
Tom: Yeah, it’s a real good deal. Amazon has it for – I can’t even mention the price. You can also get it at the local bookstores, and it’s at your public library, which is the ultimate bargain.
Tom: Yeah, Sorting Out the New South City, it’s the most comprehensive history that this now big city has in how we got to be who we are.
Mike: Yeah. How do the two of you know each other or how did you meet? Tell us that story.
Tom: If you walk around the Plaza Midwood business district, you know that House Africa is there and you know it’s special. I don’t have any memory beyond that.
Pape: I do have a little memory behind that. We met, I think, when I just got here in the meeting for the first Juneteenth that was in the southside. I think that was the west. How do you call it? There was a school there. The school is still there. The breakfast morning meeting.
Tom: Very good. It sounds like the thing that I would do. I’ve gotten old enough so I don’t remember specific stuff, but every June for 22 years now.
Tom: Twenty-four years, this celebration. Initially, when I was first aware of it, it was Thomas Avenue. They would close off Thomas Avenue. There would be tents. There would be drum circles.
Tom: On Sunday mornings, the older parishioners from some of the gospel churches would come worship and sing. It grew from Thomas Avenue and took over Independence Park. It was actually too big for Independence Park, which has no good parking, and so it’s moved back to Thomas Avenue.
Pape: Where it’s been 24 years ago, yes.
Mike: Yeah. Pape, you are kind of accredited in a lot of sense with really kind of spearheading this Juneteenth Celebration, which I believe you refer to often as a festival.
Mike: Which I think is awesome because not only is it just a celebration, but it really is a very big to-do. Going on 25 years for doing this, that’s pretty remarkable. What made you really want to get involved in this?
Pape: When I got here – well, first of all, when I came to America, I’d been almost all over trying to market my art and also trying to learn about the history of America and the people. That’s when I discovered that there was no Juneteenth in Charlotte. That’s when I said, “Let me do it,” and using it also as a tool to again educate about the rich culture of Africa and also to unite people because I believe that blood may be thicker than water but it is the water of life that keeps all of us connected. That’s why I say, “Let’s use Juneteenth as that tool.”
Mike: Yeah, that’s fantastic. I heard a recent interview that you did – I think it was last year – where you mentioned that’s finally getting to the point where people aren’t directly asking you what is Juneteenth. The awareness is growing and, because of all of the things that have now come with the expansion of Charlotte and the growth, that the awareness of Juneteenth is now at the point where it’s not so much a question of what is it, but how do I celebrate it. Do you feel that your role and the Charlotte Juneteenth celebrations are at least partially responsible for growing that awareness?
Pape: Yes. Thank you for the world now to know what Juneteenth is about because I believe that Juneteenth is a very, very big part of American history. Thank Donald Trump for testing it out there, putting it out there.
When I got here, my phone was ringing. People were wondering, what is Juneteenth? Then it was not just African-American, but African-American, white, you name it; what is Juneteenth? That was the question every day. I was born and raised in Africa and explaining to Americans what is Juneteenth.
I’m so proud now that Juneteenth is out there and proud that the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas gives birth to all the Juneteenth around Charlotte and surrounding areas. That’s a wonderful thing. I just believe that it was much better if it was combined (the whole thing) because, in the beginning, what we did was call it Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas. So, I think all those Juneteenth out there should combine in being one. That’s what we promote, unity and togetherness.
Mike: Yeah. Tom, from a historical perspective, how has the significance of this holiday changed over the years and what impact does it have today? Are you noticing differences in the way it’s approached, perceived, and celebrated?
Tom: Very much so. The Juneteenth thing started out as just a Texas thing. Most of you probably know, but as they ended the Civil War, you didn’t have the Internet and you couldn’t log on and find out what had happened in the last 24 hours. And so, the end of slavery, the communication, white folks controlled that communication, and so the word did not get out as quickly as it might.
In Texas, on June 19th, 1865, the word got there and there was a celebration. For a long time, that was kind of a local thing until, I think, Pape started—
Pape: June the 19th, 1865.
Tom: I hope I said that. I may have said something different. There you go. Thank you for correcting me.
Until it started to crop up on Thomas Avenue, I really wasn’t aware of it. Today, there is talk around the United States, particularly in this last year, as President Trump and others have butted up against this notion that Black Lives Matter, there has been (as part of that), should we make Juneteenth a community celebration day, a day off from school? There are some companies that are giving Juneteenth as a day off (if you wish it). The energy for that in this part of the South started on Thomas Avenue.
Mike: Yeah. That’s amazing. Do you find that being in the South that you find that it’s taken more seriously and celebrated heavier in that region than, say, in other parts of the country?
Tom: Pape, what do you think?
Pape: Oh, me. Okay. Yeah, I think, in the South. It is out there up north, New York City to Upstate New York, Virginia, but it is more celebrated in the South more than anywhere else.
Mike: Yeah. Pape, you said that you believe that Juneteenth is not really just an African-American holiday, but that it’s really part of American culture as a whole.
Mike: And that it’s celebrated by all American people regardless of race or culture.
Mike: Do you find that that movement is still growing rapidly?
Pape: It is growing very rapidly in the South. Here, at the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas, our aim is not trying at all to recreate the past but to share in the spirit of freedom and togetherness. That’s my goal.
Mike: Yeah. When you have a festival, a celebration, what kinds of things happen? What can we expect if I was to walk into this Juneteenth Celebration? What are all the festivities and activities that are going on?
Pape: Every year, we start Juneteenth with our youth, a youth day camp. That starts every year on Thursday in Uptown Charlotte. There, we get between 400 to 500 youth from 5 years old to 16 years old, teaching them about art, culture, painting, acting, motivation, all kinds of stuff so that they can move forward with their lives and keep that in their mind.
That’s what I believe. That’s how I was raised that kids, you need to talk to them. You need to teach them. You don’t just let them be by themselves at 4 o’clock. Mother not there. Daddy not there. Somebody has to be there to teach them.
They don’t know nothing. You have to talk to them. That’s what I believe. That’s why every year at Juneteenth, that’s how we open up Juneteenth with the youth day camp – every year.
On Friday, we have the opening drum circle because I also believe in communication. In African culture, drums are a symbol of communication. That’s the opening drum circle.
Now, on Saturday and Sunday, we have the actual festival. We also have vendors that come from all over the country, from New York to Alabama to Mississippi to Texas. You name it, we have vendors from everywhere. And from Africa also.
Two years ago, before the COVID, we brought some groups from South Africa, the Zulu. They were here providing entertainment for Charlotte and surrounding areas. On Sunday we have (like Tom was saying earlier) the gospel explosion. That’s all day long on Sunday. And speakers, motivational speakers.
It is peaceful, very, very peaceful. We’ll get thousands and thousands of people, but very, very peaceful. We never have any shooting, no problems, no nothing since day one. I knock on wood.
Mike: [Laughter] Well, that’s amazing. Absolutely. You get a bunch of people together and sometimes things go wrong, but the vibe that you give off emanates peace. Hopefully, that stays that way. Knock on tons of wood, but I’m sure that with what you’ve put together that that will continue to be the case.
Pape: And people, like I’m not doing it myself. We have a committee here.
Pape: People that are out there, like my friend Tom Hatchett, who is out there putting Juneteenth out there every year since day one – since day one, every year, every year, every year. And putting House of Africa out there, that makes me just feel so happy and makes me feel welcome to America and especially welcome to Charlotte and the South.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah, Tom, that’s pretty awesome. You’ve been supporting not only Pape and his art and his stores, but really the culture and the celebration and been a huge part of driving the awareness yourself.
Tom: Well, thank you so much. I don’t think I’m a huge part of it but, as a neighbor, that’s part of neighboring. There are a lot of people pitching in. If you have been on the corner of Thomas Avenue and Central Avenue, there is a building-sized mural about Plaza Midwood and its important characters and places in recent days. There is Pape Ndiaye about 12 feet tall.
Tom: He’s wearing glasses, not like today. This is a thing that brings people together.
One of the dance troops, a woman from Africa, Elsie Mufuka, has a dance troop year-round and this is one of the things that they come together to do. Last year, as the protests about the George Floyd murder came, she danced about that with her troop, and a number of the folks in the troop were white folks. And so, this notion that we can come together around issues, it’s a powerful thing.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. In fact, since you kind of brought that up, it jogged my memory of something. I was recently having a conversation with somebody about Juneteenth. It was mentioned to me that this person wasn’t sure (and a lot of people aren’t sure) if it’s appropriate for white people or for non-African-Americans to celebrate Juneteenth. They feel like maybe they wouldn’t be taken as sincere or maybe they wouldn’t be made to feel welcome. But clearly, Pape, that’s not the case at all.
Pape: It is not the case, my friend. We are all one. Again, Juneteenth is not an African-American holiday. It is a part of American history. It is American. It is America, so we all need to come together and celebrate it. Black, white, burgundy, yellow, you name it, it is America.
Mike: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s exactly the message of unity. It’s a true message of unity. It’s not conditional. It’s really there to just celebrate people coming together for many different causes and many different things.
Juneteenth is a very special celebration, I think, and people should feel welcome to celebrate your friends, celebrate your neighbors, and support all members of the community and all members of the world, really.
Pape: True. True. True. Here at the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas, we don’t discriminate. At Juneteenth, we have white drummers and sometimes more white drummers than black drummers.
Pape: I can send you some pictures.
Mike: Oh, yeah.
Pape: We all celebrate as one.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah, I love that. Tom, I’m sure you’ve heard this especially as a historian or an expert on history, but there’s that old saying that you can’t rewrite history, which to a point is true. But from your perspective, can we rewrite the way that history is presented and understood? For instance, is Juneteenth in enough history books out there in the world? If you could wave your magic wand, how would we go about making sure that we get accurate history in our educational system? That’s a very big question, but why don’t you take that on?
Tom: Well, I think that if you’re interested in learning, you should not limit yourself to school, and that’s why there’s sort of free-choice learning. I worked for Lavine Museum of the New South for a long time. That’s free-choice learning. Digging into a history podcast, that’s free-choice learning. Going to a street festival, that’s free-choice learning.
By the way, you don’t have to wait until the weekend of June 17th to go to House of Africa. Y’all can do that right now. You will be surrounded by African art. Pape or somebody will welcome you. That kind of learning is what helps us continually redefine what it means to be an American person, what it means to be a neighbor.
Like I was saying, when I was growing up this stuff wasn’t in the history books. There was really no place (if you didn’t know to look for it) that you could find it. And so, what is going on, on Thomas Avenue, this June (and every June) is part of that free-choice learning that we can choose to enrich our own lives with.
Mike: Yeah. You’re creating a path for your own history, if you will, to kind of help redefine it by actions and steer things into a more healthy generational move. I think that’s awesome.
Pape, you’d said a few moments ago that you had returned back from a trip home to Africa. I was curious. Does Juneteenth have any kind of a presence back where you’re from? Is this kind of strictly an American, U.S. thing, or are there movements in other places as well?
Pape: Not yet. Not yet, but I start introducing them to Juneteenth. For example, between now and next year, what I would like to do is have a small celebration, starting with a small celebration at Goree Island. That was called “The Door of No Return.” That was the slave dungeon that was in Senegal where I was born and raised. It is a small island that’s where the slaves were leaving (almost West Africa) to come to America or dispatched to the Caribbean and Europe. That was the triangular commerce.
Pape: That was the commerce triangulaire, en Francais, the commerce triangulaire. I don’t know how to say it in English.
Pape: Do you know that I did not speak English 25 years ago?
Mike: Not a lick of English, huh?
Pape: Not at all. Just the basics.
Pape: Art. Stair. Leg. Maybe dance.
Pape: That was it. I literally—
Mike: …better than me. [Laughter]
Pape: I learned here in America what I know now.
I would like to start a celebration there to bring awareness about Juneteenth to those people where the blacks come from so that they also know what Juneteenth is about.
Pape: If they know about slavery, but I just want them to know about Juneteenth. But now, with the Internet, they know.
Mike: [Laughter] Yeah, the glory of the magical Internet, right? You’re on your way to making this happen. Once this gets into place, it truly will be a worldwide celebration. That’s the ultimate goal, right?
Pape: That’s my goal.
Pape: That’s our goal.
Pape: A worldwide celebration, I think that will be good because I believe, in 1981, when I was going to school in Paris, the President of Senegal was in this show, a TV show called 7 sur 7 – 1982. They asked him what does he think about slavery. I will never forget that his answer. His name was Leopold Senghor, the first President of Senegal.
He said that slavery was the worst thing that ever happened to humanity. Right. But again, he is not trying to recreate the past but using it to learn, using it to educate. So, I think that Juneteenth should be a worldwide celebration.
Mike: Yeah. Tom, what do you think about that?
Tom: I think that anything that brings us together is a good thing. Anything that has dancing and drumming is a good thing.
Tom: They have corndogs. They have popsicles. It’s a street festival. It’s just this one block of Thomas Avenue so that if you are weirded out by really big events, this is intimate enough and there is not a lot of regimentation stuff that happens. The drummers get going and their circle gets bigger. Then somebody has to go off and eat a corndog, a donut, or whatever, and the circle gets smaller. It’s great people-watching.
What are the dates this year? June 17th—
Pape: Yeah, June 17th through the 20th.
Tom: Very good. 1215 Thomas Avenue.
Pape: On Thomas Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue because we’re closing Thomas Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue, so that’s two blocks.
Tom: All right.
Pape: This year, we are having a march called the Juneteenth Freedom March. It will start on June the 19th at 10:00 a.m. from Marshall Park to Central Avenue and Thomas Avenue. It is going to be a peaceful march called the Juneteenth Freedom March.
Mike: Yeah, it’s awesome. I’m curious. Last year, I believe, there were some regulations in place due to COVID and you guy had to do a drop-in, drop-out, kind of a situation. What’s it going to be like this year? Is it going to be fully open?
Pape: Yes, it will be fully open. But we want people to also try the social distancing, wearing the masks, and just being careful.
Pape: Because COVID is still here.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah, be careful, be responsible, but enjoy the festivities.
Pape: Last year, we did not want to have the Juneteenth Celebration, but it just happened.
Pape: People come in. People come, and it was thousands of people.
Pape: Drumming, dancing, all kinds of stuff in and out, in and out, in and out. It was careful. But this year, we want it more careful because we believe that COVID is still here.
Mike: Yeah. It’s still here, but things are starting slowly to kind of get back to, I guess, what we used to call normal. I don’t even know what that word means anymore.
Pape: No more.
Mike: [Laughter] No more. What’s normal now will be celebrations, right? That’s the goal is to have people celebrate things every day. That would be amazing.
Mike: As a country, America, we’ve come a long way, but we still have such a long way to go to rid ourselves of racism, bigotry, preconceived notions, and stereotypes. Pape, what message would you like to leave people with today?
Pape: Again and again, the unity, togetherness, that’s what I believe in, and communication.
Pape: Communication because if you don’t communicate, how can you know the person? How can you, because of that barrier that is in between black and white?
Pape: The barrier that is in between black and white, that’s what the problem is in America, the lack of communication. That communication needs to be here. We need to communicate in order to reach that gap. We need the communication.
I communicate with people. House of Africa is just not for African-American or Spanish or Asian. It is for everyone. When I got here to Charlotte—to tell you the truth—to still now, I’ve met more white than African-American. Why? Communication is the key.
Sometimes, they tell me that because you come from another country. I don’t think so. Communication is the key.
Pape: It is the key. Communication is the key. I lived ten years in Europe before coming to America. We live all together in one neighborhood, in one building. We communicate. We eat the same food. We do everything together.
I think the lack of communication is the problem in America. I don’t even call it racism. I call it a lack of communication.
Mike: Yeah. yeah, that makes perfect sense. Tom, what about you? What would you like to leave our listeners with today?
Tom: I think we’ve got a great communicator here in our midst in Charlotte. It is our joy to be welcomed in the House of Africa and to be welcomed into the Juneteenth celebration. Thank you, Pape Ndiaye.
Pape: Thank you.
Tom: Thank you to Aldersgate for the energy this year.
Pape: Yeah, great energy. Great energy. I love it.
Mike: I think it’s amazing the way that this celebration has taken off and, Pape, the way that you are driving communication as a tool to help break down those barriers. I definitely agree with you. I think that that’s crucial and getting to know people helps drop those fears.
Mike: I do think a lot of things in the world, in general, fear breeds any number of things that just make you not want to interact. Once you’re in a place where those barriers are down and the understanding is there, people are definitely more apt to interact in a more organic way, be more welcoming, and be more just caring towards people, in general.
Hey, guys, it’s not hard to be a nice person. [Laughter] It really doesn’t take a whole lot more than to just be nice.
[music starts playing]
Mike: I would like to thank you both for taking time out of your very busy schedule to chat with us today. This has been an absolute honor having you both on here. I look forward to hearing about this year’s Juneteenth Celebration. I’m sure I’ll see tons of cool videos and pictures. I’m sad I can’t be there for it, but I will live vicariously through both of you. I look forward to chatting with you both again in the future. Thank you so much.
Pape: Thank you so much for having us. Thanks a lot, again.
Tom: Thank you, Mike Peacock.
Mike: Thanks, as always, of course, to all of you out there in radio and podcast land for tuning in and for helping us to share the awesomeness with the world.
Speaking of awesomeness, if you get a chance, I highly encourage you to take part in this year’s Juneteenth Celebration in Charlotte. See for yourself what the true spirit of togetherness, friendship, and cultural diversity is all about.
I also encourage you to stop by Pape’s shop (House of Africa) for a truly unique experience, and make sure to check out Tom’s book Sorting Out the New South City.
I guess, while I’m getting all bossy and telling y’all what to do, make sure you send us your questions, comments, ideas, and thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be sure to address them in future episodes. Until then, take care, spread the love, and we’ll talk to you soon on Aldersgate OnAir.
[Music continues to play]