“There are two words I think of when I think of freedom – power and wealth. Juneteenth is ours; it belongs to us. You have to know where you’ve been in order to realize where you want to go. Juneteenth is an opportunity for us to come together and celebrate our Black heritage while we continue to fight for our rights.” These are the words of Margaret Henningsen, one of the founders of both Milwaukee’s Juneteenth Day Celebration and Legacy Bank.
In 1971, Margaret had an idea: host a Juneteenth celebration on 3rd Street, now known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. That idea, now in its 49th year, was inspired in the 1960s when Margaret was nearly 15 years old.
“Back in 1962 my family and I took a trip to Georgia to visit my great-grandma,” Margaret remembers. “As I was talking with her, she told me about the Juneteenth celebrations Black people held across the south.”
Later in the 1960s, Milwaukee was one of 189 cities where riots took place. The street that was most damaged was 3rd Street. In the immediate years after the riots, community leaders at Northcott Neighborhood House were looking for a way to bring people back to the 3rd Street neighborhood. At that time, Margaret was running Northcott’s HeadStart program.
“We wanted to show people that it was a great community and there was nothing to be afraid of. One day at our staff meeting I said, ‘why don’t we hold a Juneteenth celebration?’ At that time, no one knew what that was because people in the north didn’t celebrate Juneteenth,” she explained.
In its first year, the festival was two blocks with approximately 2,000 attendees. Since then, it’s grown to a mile long with tens of thousands of attendees, making it the largest Juneteenth Day celebration in the country. This event paved the way for Chicago and other communities in our territory to join the annual celebration.
“We cannot forget what our people went through so that we can have some of the things we have. It’s still not a perfect world; we’re still fighting for our rights. Today is a way for us to celebrate our blackness and our fight for freedom, which will continue until we get it.”
Margaret Henningsen is a longstanding corporate and community leader. Her extensive career includes founding Legacy Bank and leading the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee. As a community partner, Goodwill is proud to highlight important stories like Margaret’s.