The Buffalo Soldiers Of Seattle, 9th-10th Cavalry (Image: Karen Toering)
With reporting and photography by Alex Garland
Seattle is marking Juneteenth, a celebration of freedom and the end of slavery in the United States, with parties and events again in 2018 though it has lost one of its driving forces behind the holiday.
The King County Council issued a proclamation this week recognizing the importance of the celebration. “Juneteenth is now the closest occasion for there being a true ‘freedom day’ to celebrate in this country for people of African descent,” said council member Larry Gossett, the sponsor of the proclamation. “Now, more than ever, people of Martin Luther King, Jr. County should understand the significance of Juneteenth.”
Sapiqua Iman: “I was in the middle of the show, running around like crazy, but celebrations like this are so important in Seattle. I was willing to drop everything I was doing if I could take 10 or 15 minutes, or even longer to enjoy the celebration, but there’s not a lot of opportunity for black excellence to convene, especially not in the Central District anymore. The fact that it’s here makes it even more important and more of a reason why I had to be a part of it. I’m really involved in making sure we keep cultural institutions open and art accessible, especially for producers and directors and performers. Every opportunity, every building that’s going to allow me to come in and bring some folks with me to let them know, we still here, and we’re doing some brilliant work, I’m going to do it.”
Kibibi Monie: “It marks the day when my ancestors were set free from slavery, that’s why it’s important to me. It seems to me that it still hasn’t taken root like it should. There’s still too much injustice to indigenous Americans and how the blacks in this country have been treated. With the respect and honor that we should have. It’s taken on another form of slavery because we’re still not free.”
Sheree Seretse: “It’s a recognition of what we’ve gone through together, relative freedom that we have as a people. I do say relative because we are still subjected to some things that inhibit our freedom. Here in the Northwest, there have been years when this event was well populated. It’s sad that DeCharlene passed away and not here to further her cause. She was a fighter and regardless if it was 10 people, 2 people, or 250 people she was here advocating for the community which is what Juneteenth is about.”
Gary Hammond: “Now I can say I’ve played for my community and shared who I am with them. It’s a very good feeling to be able to do that. We have a long way to go as people. We’ve got to learn to love each other again. We’ve got to understand that our music is not only rap music. We have a tradition, an art form that was created here on this soil, that’s not European. We tend to take it for granted. Juneteenth is a time for us to get together and celebrate a wonderful woman who decided to extend herself and go above and beyond to bring community together. That was DeCharlene. It must go on.”
Tony Benton of Rainier Avenue Radio: “It’s part of our history. Even though there was the Emancipation Proclamation, there were still parts of our country where people were not free. As Americans, we have to remember the resilience that took place when these people were freed. Once the word came, there was a celebration that took place, this was 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Can you imagine what you would do in that situation? First think about being a slave and what that bondage did to mentally, physically. Then, you don’t know where you’re going, what you’re doing, you don’t know what freedom is. They took time to celebrate freedom and each other. There are a lot of different reasons to celebrate, freedom is one of them. Part of it is how to do we move forward in a country that has enslaved us. There are a lot of things to reflect on. At the end of the day, it’s another part of American history. Today is a celebration of DeCharlene. Whether it will happen next year, I don’t know. It will take a group of people coming together and say we are going to continue to celebrate this day in her legacy and that’s what Juneteenth is about.”
Jazmyn Scott, Program Manager for Langston, the new non-profit at Langston Hughes: “As part of the programing goals at Langston is to make sure we are engaging the community in things around African American arts and culture. DeCharlene Williams who recently passed, who was the founder of the Central Area Chamber of Commerce started doing this Juneteenth celebration 35 years ago at this park. It’s a traditional thing to make sure to get the community to come out and get information, to fellowship, to get to know one another. We wanted to make sure that as a community partner that we weren’t doing anything that was going against anything that was already happening in the community. But see how we could partner with and be a part of to make sure those legacies would continue. It became important for us to come together and partner with the Central Area Chamber of Commerce to make sure this event still happened even though she’s no longer at the helm. It’s us, the Northwest African American Museum, The Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, were the main partners who came together to put the celebration on. There’s also Black Dot and Africatown, Rainier Avenue Radio, there were a lot of community members who wanted to make sure this happened. Legacies shouldn’t die when the body leaves.”
The full proclamation is below. The statement also recognizes the role the Central Area Chamber of Commerce has played in the region’s annual celebration of Juneteenth. DeCharlene Williams, the founder and longtime head of the chamber, died in May at the age of 75.
Over the weekend, two days of Juneteenth celebrations were held around the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute and Pratt Park in the Central District:
2018 marks the 35th annual event presented by The Central Area Chamber of Commerce and the first year without DeCharlene Williams at the helm. This year, we will honor and continue her lifelong legacy of supporting and empowering Black community and business.
RainierAvenueRadio.World will air a recap of the 35th Annual Juneteenth Community Celebration at 7 PM on Tuesday June 19th.
The King County’s proclamation in recognition of Juneteenth is below:
WHEREAS, Juneteenth commemorates the day on June 19, 1865, when African slaves in Texas were told by Major General Gordon Granger that they are now “free” and that their 246 years of chattel slavery had ended; and
WHEREAS, the abolishment of slavery throughout the U.S. had actually taken place some two and a half years earlier when President Abraham Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but resistance to his Executive Order and continued conflict in Texas regarding the abolishment of slavery significantly delayed the freedom of slaves; and
WHEREAS, a year after Major Granger’s announcement, on June 19, 1866, the freed African American men and women in Texas held the first “Juneteenth” or African American Independence Day celebration, which would later spread to all corners of the country; and
WHEREAS, in 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday and has been followed by 41 other states that have recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday or holiday observance; and
WHEREAS, Juneteenth is now the closest occasion for there being a true “freedom day” to celebrate in this country for people of African descent; and
WHEREAS, in King County, Juneteenth will be celebrated in people’s homes and neighborhoods, with the longest and largest celebration being held by the Central Area Chamber of Commerce;
NOW, THEREFORE, we, the Metropolitan King County Council, recognize the historic event of
and encourage all residents of Martin Luther King, Jr. County to join us in its celebration.
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