New Orleans Minister Helped Raise Awareness of Juneteenth History

NEW ORLEANS — From the June 2023 issue of New Orleans magazine, sister publication to Biz New Orleans:

 In 1995, a call was made across the country for people to meet at Christian Unity Baptist Church located at 1700 Conti Street in New Orleans.

The voice was from Minister John Mosley. He believed it was time for the history and meaning of Juneteenth to be reestablished within the national consciousness.

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Mosley’s call to action was similar to the one made by way of newspapers and advertisements around Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. Back then General Orders Number 3, issued by General Robert S. Granger who commanded the Military District of Texas, informed all Black enslaved people in the state that they were free.

Up until that point, Black Texans did not know their freedom was already established by the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862.

For some reason, which to this date only supposition and assumptions can explain, enslaved people in Texas did not know they were free or that the Civil War ended. The first anniversary of Juneteenth was then recognized by Black people in other parts of America on June 19, 1865.

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Mosley’s efforts, with the support of countless people in New Orleans and around the country, were rewarded on June 17, 2021, when President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law making June 19 a federal holiday.

On June 18, 2021, the White House issued the Juneteenth Day Proclamation with President Biden stating, “I call upon the people of the United States to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism that still undermines our founding ideals and collective prosperity.”

Mosley lives in Baton Rouge now, but he is delighted with the holiday’s national recognition. He is not satisfied with the way race relations have progressed in America since the Civil Rights Movement.

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Juneteenth, for some, is a Texas holiday. Yet, history shows that Black New Orleanians celebrated freedom in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Juneteenth in New Orleans is a happening. For those involved, the historical impacts of the holiday are bore out in a personal way that is shared throughout the community.


After traveling the world searching for answers about himself and life, Mosely recalls the time when destiny tapped him on the shoulder in New Orleans.

“I had never heard of Juneteenth until 1990,” he said.

Mosely was introduced to James McDuffie who shared the story of Juneteenth. Mosley realized that Juneteenth celebrations had all but ceased in New Orleans for more than 100 years. Mosley and McDuffie joined their efforts to start growing Juneteenth celebrations. They eventually parted ways and Mosley continued planning and organizing Juneteenth celebrations – as Director of the New Orleans Juneteenth Freedom Celebration — which took place in City Park.

But Mosley was committed to promoting Juneteenth to a bigger audience. First, Mosely formed the African American Male and Female Institute (led today by Dereck Alexander). The organization’s mission is to promote the history and culture of Black people.

Mosley then requested a meeting in New Orleans to establish a foundation to build momentum for his Juneteenth vision.

“In 1995, the call for people to come to New Orleans for Juneteenth was made. At that time, there had never been a gathering of people from across the land for Juneteenth. People came,” he said.

Two years later, the first Juneteenth Conference was held in New Orleans. That gathering led to the creation of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF). According to the organization’s website, its mission is “To bring all Americans together to celebrate our common bond of freedom through the recognition, observance, education and historic preservation of Juneteenth in America.”

Alexander, who has worked closely with Mosley since the 1990s, said Juneteenth becoming a national holiday is awe inspiring.

“It has been a long and winding road. But it has come to pass. Minster Mosley is a gentleman that I myself would say is the trailblazer and pioneer of Juneteenth in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. We want to share this with younger people. And there are others who are picking up the mantle like Kojo Livingston’s daughter Shaddai Livingston, who is continuing his work and Minister Mosley’s work,” Alexander said.

The 25th anniversary of the creation of the NJOF will be held October 19-23, 2023 in New Orleans.


Sometimes a person’s calling is revealed to them by those who understand the big picture.

During the COVID pandemic, Shaddai Livingston was busy adjusting to the new norm like the rest of the world. She also was deep into a professional career that centered around coaching business owners.

Prior to founding the Juneteenth Festival that is held in Congo Square, Livingston understood what Juneteenth was and what it meant to the Black population in America. What Livingston did not realize is that she and the holiday were about to be joined together by spirit, advocacy and bloodline.

“I got ‘voluntold’ (Livingston’s expression of volunteering and being told how things will be).  An elder by the name of Baderinwa Rolland  essentially said it was time for me to do something in the community since my father was an activist here in New Orleans for many years. It was my time to pick up the baton,” she said.

Livingston’s father was Minister Kojo Livingston, a Big Easy religious, social and cultural activist and writer. He was inspired by the words and spirit of 20th-century Black leader Marcus Garvey.

What followed was some planning and booking of artists for a Juneteenth festival in New Orleans. Her first event took place in 2020 at Culture Park on Franklin Street. Each year the Juneteenth Festival has grown, leading to its placement at Congo Square, although Livingston notes that prior to the large festival she is involved with, there were smaller ones that have taken place all over New Orleans for years. The City of New Orleans has now officially recognized the Juneteenth Festival held at Congo Square.

Livingston notes the celebration has also benefited local vendors.

“During the 2022 festival, we had a little over 30 vendors. This year, we have about 50,” Livingston said. “Vendors have not expected crowds to be so big.”

Living the responsibility laid upon her to create a space for the public to celebrate has left an impression on Livingston. She knows there is more work to do to strengthen the festival and its impact on the community.

“I would like to see it become an event that really highlights the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I have not done enough work with HBCUs and would like to see that,” she said. “And I would like to see the festival grow and become a two-day event at some point. Also, I would like to see how our Black non-profits can profit from the festival too.”


Malik Bartholomew walks the streets of New Orleans with a group of people in tow regularly. As the owner of Know NOLA Tours, he took it upon himself to share what he refers to as the “real New Orleans.”

Bartholomew earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Dillard University. Since he was a teenager, studying the past has been a passion. His tours are focused on Black heritage. When he speaks, Bartholomew tells the story of the city’s Black culture and its connection to the African continent by way of the Caribbean.

Juneteenth and its influence on New Orleans are something Bartholomew – who, after talking to him, will convince a person he is a modern-day griot (a traditional African poet, musician and storyteller) — understands because he feels and sees the impact of the Black experience from the slave trade system, slavery, emancipation, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, up to today’s evolving social and political atmosphere.

“It is never too late to celebrate yourself or your ancestors,” he said. “I did not grow up celebrating Juneteenth. After living in Houston following Hurricane Katrina, I saw mass Juneteenth celebrations.”

Bartholomew explained that Juneteenth as a celebration is vital to the story of Black Americans. It is Bartholomew’s opinion that the holiday provides a prime opportunity for the public to discuss an issue that has been debated and fought over in America regarding the Black population.

“It is the time to continue debating and talking about what is freedom, then and now. Juneteenth is not the past; it is the present with all our experiences.”

Bartholomew works as a volunteer with Livingston in planning the Juneteenth Festival in Congo Square. He even works as an event host and has experienced the community’s appreciation for the event.

As he goes about walking around Juneteenth events the history of Black people in New Orleans and Juneteenth never leaves his mind.

“Juneteenth is a day when a nation founded in democracy and freedom, can observe freedom of the emancipated and other indigenous peoples. It is a celebration of valor and contributions. I also think about the countless people – people of color, those enslaved, First Nations – and the stories history does not tell us about them. They were forgotten. We celebrate them too,” he said.

Another aspect of the festival that is dear to Bartholomew’s heart is the influence of the community elders.

“People like John Mosley are celebrated by us because they passed on to the current young men and women knowledge of traditions that make the community strong.”


Food is one of the core aspects of Juneteenth celebrations. In New Orleans recipes published in cookbooks are the backbone of any holiday party or gathering.

Zella Palmer, chair and director of Dillard University’s Ray Charles Program in Africa-American Material Culture and founder of the university’s food studies minor, encourages readers to read several specific books. “Creole Cookery” from 1885 and “The Original Picayune Creole Cook” book from 1900 are two of her recommendations.

“When you cook these recipes, we take back our knowledge and skill sets,” Palmer said.

The knowledge Palmer refers to is institutional kitchen understanding that many Black women and men in the 1800s and 1900s exhibited daily. As far as Palmer is concerned, the understanding of ingredients, seasonings, herbs, and other tricks of the kitchen trade, have been lost to many. Juneteenth is a time when the connection to the past can be found in today’s kitchens.

“There are so many dishes we can celebrate. Look at the old recipes and collect books and revive Creole cuisine. Juneteenth for me means my ancestors’ day. It is a day of veneration for both my mother and father’s side of the family,” she said.

Palmer wants the public to be mindful to not lose sight of the deep cultural and spiritual meaning of Juneteenth. She warns that the commercialization of the holiday can water down the holiday’s importance.

“It is very special to see the Juneteenth revival from past days. Let us make sure we are focused on history and remind ourselves of our ancestor’s dreams…we have our freedom,” she said.

As a person researches the foods of New Orleans from decades past, some key food facts should be considered. For instance, red figures prominently in Juneteenth celebrations. The color symbolizes the blood of Africans who died during the Atlantic slave trade. Watermelon, barbecue, red lemonade, red soda water, hibiscus sweet tea, red cabbage slaw and red velvet cake are just a few red hued foods and dishes that are served during the holiday.

Other culinary favorites found during the celebration are collard greens, black-eyed peas with pork, cabbage and cornbread. These are known as prosperity foods. Symbolically, pork represents wealth, green leafy vegetables bring good fortune, and corn signifies wealth.

“I encourage people all the time to lift your ancestors through cooking. They want their stories told. That is Juneteenth. A reminder of how we came here,” she said.

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