By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Ashley Smith has taken U.S. history classes, but those courses never covered Juneteenth. Today’s date, June 19, is so significant that the Smithsonian Institution has called it “Our Other Independence Day.”
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Smith, an 18-year-old Edmonds Community College student, is helping organize a free celebration on the EdCC campus Saturday to recognize the key date.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas, to issue an order announcing the Emancipation Proclamation. President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order became official more than two years earlier, Jan. 1, 1863, but word didn’t reach Texas until after the Confederacy collapsed.
Backed by more than 2,000 Union troops, Granger publicly read General Order No. 3, which said that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
A celebration started by former slaves in Texas, the Juneteenth tradition lives on in 2013, 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
The local NAACP chapter has held Juneteenth events for the past five years, said Ben Young, a member of that group and the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee. This year’s event, to be held 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday outside EdCC’s Lynnwood Hall, will be larger than local Juneteenth picnics of the past.
“It has snowballed in a good way,” said Young, who, with the heritage committee, also helps put on the Nubian Jam. That annual celebration of African-American music and culture is set for July 27 at Everett’s Forest Park.
“I lived in Texas for a good number of years,” Young said. There, Juneteenth is a “huge celebration” and a state holiday, he said. After moving to the Northwest, Young went to Juneteenth celebrations at Seattle’s Pratt Park. In the Northwest, according to the HistoryLink website, Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1890, when black families from Seattle and Tacoma gathered in Kent.
Organizers of Snohomish County’s Juneteenth put an emphasis on family, education and opportunity, Young said.
“It’s a great event to bring our community together,” said Smith, the EdCC student. “A lot of people don’t know what Juneteenth is. It’s also called Freedom Day.
“This is history. The history classes we take in high school and college, I can’t say I’ve learned anything about Juneteenth,” Smith added. On Saturday, she will perform her spoken-word poetry and sing with the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Choir.
The celebration will include speakers, County Executive John Lovick among them, music and dancing, catered food from Everett’s Craving Cajun Grill and Lew’s BBQ, games sponsored by YMCA of Snohomish County, the Northside Drill Team and Drum Squad, an open microphone and more.
“It’s a nice celebration,” said Janice Greene, president of Snohomish County NAACP. She said Juneteenth is increasingly being acknowledged all over the United States. “It’s not just the South, Texas and Louisiana,” Greene said. “As time goes on, more people have migrated across the country. It’s a good way to honor that history.”
Someday, Juneteenth may be officially remembered nationwide.
The Rev. Ronald V. Myers, a doctor who lives in Belzoni, Miss., is founder and chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. He has been working since 2004 to have June 19 recognized with a national day of observance, like Flag Day.
“There’s definitely more awareness,” said Myers, who on Tuesday was on his way to a big Juneteenth celebration in Washington, D.C.
He said U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Texas Republican, introduced legislation last year to make Juneteenth Independence Day a national day of observance. Myers said that since Hutchinson retired in January, other members of Congress have taken up the cause.
“On the Fourth of July, we talk about freedom in America. We need to be teaching the 19th of June as well,” Myers said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Snohomish County chapter of the NAACP will hold a free Juneteenth celebration 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Edmonds Community College, 20000 68th Ave. W, Lynnwood. All events are in an outdoor courtyard near Lynnwood Hall. There will be speakers, music including the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Choir, food, health screenings, games, and an open microphone. Information: www.facebook.com/events/514705431923958/