Lance Bridgeman, unveiled the street sign for his grandmother Idella "Juneteenth" Grigsby-Figgures

Idella Figgures Day in Gary was May 17th

Contributed By: The 411 News

Organizer of Gary's Juneteenth celebrations -- a visionary to be remembered

Toni Simpson remembered marching in the Juneteenth parades organized by Idella Figgures, back in the 70’s.

“We started on her block at 13th and Van Buren, then down to the Froebel Library at 15th and Madison, and back. People looked at us like we were crazy, wondering what’s Juneteenth,” Simpson recalled.

Afterwards, they would have a block party with performances and food, said Simpson, who today is the organizer of Gary’s International Black Film Festival.

Over the years, the parade route expanded beyond her neighborhood as Figgures spread the word about June 19, 1865 -- the day when slaves in Texas learned that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation 2 years earlier, in 1863. Black Americans in Texas turned it into an annual celebration and Texas made it an official state holiday in 1980.

Friday, May 17th was Idella Figgures Day, declared Gary Mayor Eddie Melton and that wasn’t the only honor for Figgures, a champion for observing Black History. Mayor Melton was attending the ceremony that will rename Van Buren Street at 11th, 13th, and 15th as Idella “Juneteenth” Grigsby-Figgures Street.

“There’s so much history in this city that I don’t know; there’s so much history in this city the current generation doesn’t know. Thank you for teaching us,” Mayor Melton said.

Gary Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Chuck Hughes remembered Figgures. “I was a city councilman and Idella and Kwabena would come in regularly to our meetings and talk about Juneteenth. Some of the folks would use it as a break time. Now that Juneteenth is a national holiday and everybody knows about it, this is a testament to who she is. Idella Figgures is the figure that made Juneteenth essential, here in the city of Gary.”

Figgures passed in 2004. Kwabena Rasuli has carried on the tradition of Juneteenth celebrations.

Recording artist Kym Mazelle applied to get the street renamed for her aunt. “She was the first in Indiana to hold Juneteenth parades,” Mazelle said.

Figgures was a dedicated historian. A February 29, 2004 Post Tribune news article featured the African-American Cultural Center & Museum based in Figgures’ home on Van Buren Street.

Figgures got the idea to start the museum from Margaret Burroughs, the curator of the DuSable Museum in Chicago. Burroughs told her, “I started the DuSable Museum in two rooms in my basement apartment. Start where you are. Don’t wait until things are just so.”

This year’s Juneteenth celebration is on June 15, beginning with a parade at 10am.

The parade route is 25th and Broadway to Roosevelt High School, at 25th and Harrison Street. Gary Mayor Eddie Melton and 5th District City Councilwoman Linda Barnes-Caldwell are hosting the “Freedom Day Celebration.” Activities start at 11am featuring Jamecia Bennett and The Sounds of Blackness.

Those interested in participating, being a vendor or sponsor can call Martha, (219) 881-1300.

Gary Mayor Eddie Melton, left, and Kym Myzelle, center, at Friday’s ceremony (Photo: Sam Love)

Family members and friends of Figgures at the honorary renaming of 11th and Van Buren Street

Story Posted:05/20/2024

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