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'We celebrate it hard.' Now in its 4th year, Sandusky's Juneteenth festival started with one person

Tondra Frisby started the Juneteenth celebration for Sandusky in 2020.
Tondra Frisby
Tondra Frisby started the Juneteenth celebration for Sandusky in 2020.

For the fourth year, the City of Sandusky is hosting a “Celebrate Freedom” Juneteenth festival Wednesday at the Jackson Street Pier in Downtown Sandusky, and the creation of the festival is thanks to one city employee.

Juneteenth is a federal holiday that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans. The name combines the words "June" and "nineteenth," the day on which in 1865 a Union general informed enslaved people in Galveston, Texas that the Civil War was over, the Union had won and slavery would no longer be tolerated.

Although it was a historic moment, not all enslaved people were freed that day. The nation did not ratify the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, for another six months, and it was not uncommon for slave owners to refuse to release people until they were forced to, according to historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The Downtown Sandusky celebration is a labor of love for Tondra Frisby, the city's youth program supervisor. She started a Juneteenth celebration in 2020, a year before it became a federal holiday.

Back then, the celebration was modest: Frisby and a microphone, informational handouts and light refreshments.

In 2024, Frisby’s grown the celebration into a day-long festival with a long list of performances, food trucks, free Underground Railroad tours and fireworks.

A stage is set up for performances ahead of the Juneteenth festival.
Tondra Frisby
A stage is set up for performances ahead of the Juneteenth festival.

“We are a culture that loves life, and we celebrate it hard,” Frisby said. “In 1776, Black people were still enslaved, so it’s really not our Independence Day. Our Independence Day is 1865 in June and so it requires fireworks as well.”

Frisby said she didn’t know about Juneteenth growing up, but after learning about it a few years ago, it’s become a holiday that means a lot to her.

“Some people feel kind of ashamed that they don’t know what it is," she said. "But if you don’t grow up with that knowledge and celebrating that holiday, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s time to grow. It’s a learning opportunity for everybody."

Part of the festival’s goal is to showcase Sandusky’s key role in the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes that helped enslaved people escape to freedom. It also highlights Black artists and Black-owned businesses as vendors and food trucks.

“Sandusky as a whole is a good town, [a] community that celebrates a wide variety of multicultural events throughout the year,” said Ricardo Quercioli, manager of Grams Goodies, one of Wednesday’s food vendors. “I just feel it shows all-around unity and coexistence.

Frisby said she appreciates the Sandusky community for celebrating the holiday with her since 2020.

“I could be living in a community where they didn’t embrace diversity, where they didn’t embrace this cultural difference,” Frisby said. “I’ve been with the city since 2018, and they’ve allowed me to be unapologetically Black. I’ll say it like that.”

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.