African World Festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

African World Festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Date Observed: First weekend in August
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The African World Festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is celebrated during the first weekend in August. It highlights African-American culture and its many contributions to the world, both past and present. Participants learn about life and rituals in Africa and the variety of African-American experience.

Historical Background

One aspect of the African World Festival is west African history, particularly that of the great Benin Empire in what is modern-day Nigeria. The logo for the festival depicts a mask that Oba (King) Esigie, who ruled the Benin Empire from about 1504 to 1550, created to honor his mother whom he designated first Iy'Oba, or Queen Mother. During Esigie's reign, Benin artists produced numerous works in copper and brass and refined casting techniques that had been passed on since the 13th century. King Esigie and other powerful and wealthy leaders became patrons of artists, helping to establish the tradition of casting bronze heads and ivory masks and possibly the first brass plaques. Such works of art that have survived are preserved in museums worldwide and have influenced later art.

Creation of the Festival

The African World Festival began in 1982 when four members of Milwaukee's AfricanAmerican community - a population of about 200,000 - met to initiate an event that would focus on the heritage and culture of Africa and members of the diaspora. Since the inception of the African World Festival, its leadership has grown to a board of directors with 17 members as well as a 20-member advisory board. Each year some 500 volunteers contribute their time and efforts to make sure the festival is a success.


The African World Festival draws as many as 80,000 attendees each year. The opening ceremonies for the festival include a traditional African libation: pouring a liquid on the ground to honor and give thanks to ancestors and to remember the struggles and trials of African Americans. The designated festival Queen Mother, King, and Elders Council are recognized during the ceremony, and African drummers and dancers perform. Participants also may learn about African ways of life by visiting a replica of a village and listening to African storytellers present traditional tales.

Other venues during the weekend celebrate African-American music - gospel, blues, hip hop, and rhythm and blues. There are sports events and youth activities. A marketplace offers such goods as fried plantains, peanut stew, barbecued ribs, fried chicken, catfish, seafood gumbo, Mississippi mud pie, peach cobbler, and funnel cakes. African jewelry, artwork, and clothing are also for sale at the marketplace.

Contacts and Web Sites

African World Festival Henry Maier Festival Park 2821 N. 4th St. Milwaukee, WI 53212 414-372-4567; fax: 414-372-6054

Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau 648 N. Plankinton Ave., Ste. 425 Milwaukee, WI 53203-2917 800-231-0903 or 414-273-3950; fax: 414-273-5596

Further Reading

Giblin, James. "Introduction: Diffusion and Other Problems in the History of African States." Art & Life in Africa Project of the School of Art and Art History, University of Iowa. Revised March 7, 1999. state .html. Thurnbauer, Marcia. "Try Out African World Festival." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online , August 8, 2005. .
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007
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