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Mr. Emancipation : The Walter Perry Story

Hamilton Black Film Festival

Mr. Emancipation is the story of Walter L Perry’s determination to put on a celebration that would transcend divisions of race and class. He staged an Emancipation Day festival that was where everyone wanted to be. Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr, Jesse Owens all headed there because, as civil rights activist Dick Gregory said “The largest Juneteenth celebration was not in America, it was in Windsor, Canada.”

A celebration of ending slavery sounds grim.

What Walter Perry organized was the exact opposite of grim. Imagine a miles-long parade. The smell of soul food. Whirling carnival rides. There was live music, talent shows and even the Miss Sepia beauty pageant (the first international beauty pageant for Black women).

From 1936 until 1967, that’s how Walter Perry celebrated freedom. Perry and his celebration got caught up in the overheated racial politics of the day, sabotage and race riots of 1967 in Detroit. His event never recovered that year and shortly after Walter Perry died…. but the spirit of Mister. Emancipation still lives on.