MONROE — People gathered Saturday in Skykomish River Park to ring in the country’s newest federal holiday, Juneteenth. Community members sang, danced and picnicked to celebrate the occasion.
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery by remembering the day when enslaved African Americans in Texas learned they were free: June 19, 1865. Confederate general Robert E. Lee had surrendered two months earlier in Appomattox, Virginia to end the Civil War. But slavery in Texas remained unaffected until the historic summer day when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Black people in Galveston, Texas.
On that day, around 250,000 enslaved Texans were freed.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a bill making the day a national holiday.
Justice to Jubilee, a local Juneteenth celebration, was hosted by Junelle Lewis and her family in collaboration with the Monroe Equity Council. Festivities kicked off at 11:30 a.m. Saturday when people marched from the Grocery Outlet on Butler Avenue to the park.
At the park, Lewis led the group in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song often referred to as the Black national anthem.
“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ‘til victory is won.”
Lewis then gave a speech to discuss the holiday’s significance.
“While this is a small step in the right direction, may we all use this as a catapult to continue rallying for true justice and liberation for all,” she said. “Our nation has a long history of racist laws, policies and practices that have affected the characteristics, employment conditions, income, lives and geography of the Black families of the United States.”
Monroe mayor Geoffrey Thomas spoke at the event. In an interview, he said success of the gathering was uplifting because it shows there’s a lot of love to go around in the community.
“We continue to work at the city to learn more about where there are laws that could be changed to do a better job of being more inclusive, more equitable,” Thomas said. “Events like today are a great opportunity to celebrate, to see and to learn.”
Poster boards with facts about Juneteenth’s history were hung up around a picnic shelter in the park.
Avery Lewis, the organizer’s husband, kept the dance party going with his DJ skills. He said his wife hatched the plan for Saturday’s festivities before the news of the federal holiday broke. The couple and their children have lived in Monroe for almost four years and they look forward to future celebrations of Black culture in the community.
Brianna Cabais, 31, of Woodinville, a mother of three, said she was pleasantly surprised when she happened across the party while playing in the park with her family.
“My kids are Black,” Cabais said. “So it was nice to join in on this celebration. Being able to experience that together with them is important.”
Juneteenth is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was made official in 1983.
At the end of the event’s formal presentation, the event’s organizer thanked its cheering attendees before inviting them to join her on the dance floor.
“Juneteenth is here to be celebrated,” Lewis told the crowd. “Today is a great time to reflect in honesty our past and present injustices, while recommitting to freedom causes, because no one is free until everyone is free.”
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterellen