Dowagiac natives return from out of state to host Juneteenth event

DOWAGIAC — Dowagiac native and Rochester, New York resident Tony Clark choked back tears as he remembered his late father, Amos.

Standing behind a grill, flipping a dozen burger patties one by one, Clark wiped his eyes as he recounted one of his favorite stories about his father.

“My father, Amos T. Clark Sr., started the first of what would become the Black Family Celebration. He and my mother, Alice Clark, kind of started this by feeding college students who would come in from [Southwestern Michigan College] back in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s,” Clark said, clearing his throat. “We want to continue that here.”

Saturday, Dowagiac natives, including Clark and Yarnel Collins, of Clarksville, Tennessee, returned to help host a community Juneteenth event. The event featured a cookout, games, a talent show, basketball tournament and entertainment, including pool, cornhole and a dunk tank. The event was hosted in the hosts’ former neighborhood near Pokagon and Lowe streets.

“We grew up here on this block,” Clark said. “That’s why we wanted to come back and do this. We want to support the community. We got grandkids running around, nieces and nephews, who are all still here. Just because we moved doesn’t mean we don’t care about our community here.”

Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans. On June 19, 1865, word of liberation arrived in Galveston, Texas, officially ending slavery in the state. Celebrations of the holiday date back as far as 1866 in some parts of the country, gaining popularity throughout the 20th century. On Thursday, President Joe Biden named Juneteenth a federal holiday.

In planning for the Dowagiac celebration, Clark said he wanted it both to bring the community together and educate the public about the importance and meaning behind Juneteenth.

“It’s a long time overdue for recognition,” Clark said, as he flipped another set of burgers. “We hope this is just the start of recognizing the history.”

Clark hopes to make the Juneteenth celebration an annual event with the support of the Dowagiac community.

“We hope in the future that the city recognizes Juneteenth is something we all need to be recognizing, not just African American folks,” Clark said. “We hope that this gets bigger and that we can invite more people and have bigger facilities. … [Juneteenth] a part of the fabric of the community, the culture.”

As community members began to trickle into the event just before noon Saturday, Clark said he hoped to honor his father by feeding the community through the Juneteenth event.

“We are trying to honor what he did,” Clark said. “This very dear to my heart because this is family, and we are committed to each other.”

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