It’s a day to commemorate the past and look to the future. But this year, furor over a Spokane woman’s racial identity may bring talk of current events to the potluck picnic table.
The local NAACP has scheduled its 150th Anniversary Juneteenth Celebration for 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday at Everett’s Walter E. Hall Park.
“It’s an opportunity to get together and have some fun,” said Janice Greene, president of the NAACP Snohomish County Branch. “We’ll have a talent portion with some of the young people. People are bringing food and blankets, they’ll be cooking,” she said. The League of Women Voters will help with voter registration, and there will be health screenings.
Greene couldn’t avoid the subject of Rachel Dolezal, the woman at the center of a media firestorm.
Through her NAACP leadership, Greene has met Dolezal, who on Monday announced she would step down as head of Spokane’s NAACP chapter. Her resignation came after Dolezal’s parents revealed last week that their 37-year-old daughter is Caucasian.
Dolezal also taught African-American studies classes at Eastern Washington University. And according to news reports, Spokane officials investigated whether she lied on an application for Spokane’s police oversight board by claiming her ethnic origins included white, black and American Indian.
Dolezal has black siblings, who were adopted, was once married to a black man, and attended Howard University, a historically black college. On Tuesday, she said on NBC’s “Today” show that “I identify as black.”
Greene, who declined to talk about the woman’s family issues, said her interactions with Dolezal have been pleasant and respectful. “We moved forward on projects,” said Greene, a graduate of Mariner High School and Everett Community College, where this year she was named a distinguished alumni.
She respects the work Dolezal has done in the past, but Greene is glad the woman stepped down from her NAACP post so the organization can focus on civil rights.
“I find it interesting that people are putting that much energy into it,” she said of the controversy. “That perspective, how you identify, I’m hearing conversations from one extreme to the other. Some people think she flat-out lied, others are thinking she is ‘transracial.’”
Greene emphasized that the NAACP, founded in 1909, had black and white members from the start. In Snohomish County, she said, “we have many people on our executive committee who are not African-American. We have Native American, Asian, Hispanic and white members.”
The local group states as its mission: “to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons of Snohomish County, and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”
“We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet,” Greene said. “We should be talking about equity in criminal justice, education, all those things. It benefits the whole.”
Louis Harris, 27, is a graduate of Everett Community College and Washington State University now involved in the local NAACP. Explaining the history of Juneteenth to young people is one aim of Saturday’s event, he said. A church youth group at the event will present a small re-enactment “of the whole purpose behind Juneteenth,” said Harris, who now works with AmeriCorps in a tutoring program at EvCC.
The roots of Juneteenth are in Texas, where 150 years ago the Union Army enforced the Emancipation Proclamation. Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth marks the day — June 19, 1865 — when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with 2,000 troops and an order saying “all slaves are free.” It was two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order ending slavery.
Long a tradition in the South, Juneteenth celebrations now happen nationwide. Greene is pleased that young people, including some from Naval Station Everett, are involved in the celebration.
She has no doubt the subject of Rachel Dolezal will come up.
“People have their opinions,” Greene said. “Talking about race and racial identity, we are individuals from different backgrounds. We’re going to see things very differently. We don’t have to agree with other people’s decisions, but maybe have a little bit of grace.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
The NAACP Snohomish County Branch will host the 150th Anniversary Juneteenth Celebration 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday at Walter E. Hall Park, 1226 W. Casino Road, Everett. The free event is a potluck picnic, with music, voter registration, health resources, music, a youth talent show, art exhibit and more.