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Cakewalks come to Omaha, honoring a longstanding tradition of Black joy

Cakewalks first originated in slavery
Posted at 7:19 AM, Jun 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-13 08:19:29-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV)  — Cakewalks began during slavery. They first began as a way for enslaved people to make fun of their masters.

"Men and women would get dressed up and do the types of dances the masters would do when they would get dressed up and go to the balls and they were mocking them and they had such fun and their masters thought it was such fun and so entertaining, when they would throw their parties they’d ask them to come and perform," Donna Vaughn, a Juneteenth organizer, said.

If they performed, they received a piece of cake. The dance then became part of minstrel shows then later made its way to Broadway and state fairs.

Now, the tradition is being carried on in Omaha, in a slightly different way.

Those who participate receive numbers and dance around. Once the music stops, a number is pulled and the winner is gifted a cake.

The first cakewalks in Omaha were held Saturday during the Juneteenth celebrations.

"One of the main factors of Juneteenth is to educate the public and it started during slavery," Vaughn said.

Organizers say it's important to teach the joy the Black community experienced, as well as the trauma.

For Saturday's event, 20 local bakeries donated cakes and cupcakes. Owners of Gigi's Cupcakes say they were more than happy to be involved in the event.

"We do get emails every single day or asking for donations which we’re always happy to do, we love giving to our community, but every month we set aside a certain budget to be able to donate back and when we got the email about a month or so, we were even excited that they’re doing a cakewalk, in general, we can’t wait to be able to be a part of that," Chrisy Byers, co-owner of Gigi's Cupcakes said. "It’s something we could really involve ourselves back in the community with a historic value."

Juneteenth celebrations are happening all month long. Saturday the 18th will be the Juneteenth parade on North 24th street, as well as the Freedom Festival held on the grounds of the Malcolm X Memorial.