There are 21 events recognizing Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States of America first celebrated June 19, 1866, across Snohomish County this year. (NAACP Snohomish County)

There are 21 events recognizing Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States of America first celebrated June 19, 1866, across Snohomish County this year. (NAACP Snohomish County)

Local groups plan to mark Juneteenth and end of U.S. slavery

Celebrations and reflections on Black history and progress are planned across Snohomish County.

MARYSVILLE — This will be the first year Chris Anderson, 41, celebrates June 19.

The Marysville man, who is Black, didn’t remember anything special from his upbringing in Chicago about the day marking the end of slavery in the United States, he said.

But this year he’s one of the organizers for an event recognizing Juneteenth — the holiday’s name — from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Comeford Park, 514 Delta Ave., Marysville. It will be one of 21 public events scheduled this year, a marked increase from past years.

Anderson, a Marysville resident for five years, has been part of demonstrations and discussions about racial injustice and equity in Snohomish County since a police officer killed George Floyd in Minneapolis over a year ago. He is one of the founders of Artists in Activism, a group of musicians who performed from an apartment building’s rooftop for months last year.

“We’re not trying to change people’s minds and people’s views in who they are and how they’re trying to be, but we can educate people about what we face systemically,” Anderson said.

A police officer cited the group with a misdemeanor noise violation, which was later dropped by the city’s prosecutor. It led to the group having a series of conversations, called Cops and Barbers, with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office that were recorded and set to be published soon.

Those events spurred him and others to plan celebrations, gatherings and reflections to memorialize Juneteenth across Snohomish County this month.

Discussions, education, music, performance art, songs, speeches and storytelling are all planned in honor of a day previously marked mostly among African American and Black people in the United States since 1866. But the day is gaining widespread prominence as one of historical significance, as underscored by the Legislature making it a paid state holiday by next year.

“The start of hope, the start of equality came from Juneteenth,” said Michael Adams, founder and executive director of Change the Narrative Granite Falls, a nonprofit dedicated to racial equity through education and relationships.

Several organizations that support civil rights and people of color coordinated the events over 11 days — called the Juneteenth Festival of Freedom. Communities of Color Coalition, Lift Every Voice Legacy, NAACP Snohomish County and the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee led the way, with newer groups such as Artists in Activism, Change the Narrative Granite Falls and Monroe Equity Council collaborating for programs as well.

The original plan was to host a large in-person festival, but concerns about COVID-19 prompted the organizations’ leaders to delay that until next year, NAACP Snohomish County Vice President Louis Harris said. In March, he and others started crafting plans to present a unified collection of Juneteenth happenings.

“It’s one of those things that we all need to celebrate because it’s all of our history,” Harris said.

This year, NAACP Snohomish County is hosting a virtual panel discussion featuring the organization’s president Janice Greene, Young Adults Committee Chairwoman Simone Tarver and Harris, as well as Washington State University Everett Chancellor Paul Pitre and Edmonds College Vice President of Equity & Inclusion Yvonne Terrell-Powell about the state of the Black community June 18.

In past years, NAACP Snohomish County has hosted a Juneteenth event that often included a barbecue, reading the Emancipation Proclamation, songs and education. Historically it has been a day for Black families to celebrate, remember their ancestors’ histories, and consider what freedom means to them at the time, said Donnie Griffin, who is African American.

He recalls being around family for games and a picnic on June 19.

“That’s how I remember Juneteenth,” said Griffin, the founder of Lift Every Voice Legacy, an Edmonds-based community building group that aims to promote freedom from hate, injustice and poverty. “It was about a picnic, playing baseball where the young folks would play against the old folks, about a meal, about sharing the history of our people from the older folks. … I didn’t realize what it was until I got older.”

June 19, called Juneteenth, marks the day in 1865 a Union Army major general rode to Galveston, Texas, to declare freedom for slaves, of whom 250,000 were estimated in Texas at the time, near the end of the Civil War. The military commander went to Texas with Black soldiers in the ranks as a visual representation of free Black people in the Union, Everett Community College instructor Shelli Jordan-Zirkle said.

“This was the first time they’d heard of freedom,” Jordan-Zirkle said. “It was cause for huge celebrations … even against peril.”

The jubilation of that day didn’t last. Racism prevailed then as it lingers now, Jordan-Zirkle said. Even years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, a reaction against Black people surged in the form of the KKK; prohibitions of Black celebrations in public spaces; segregation; and voting restrictions.

Those systemic ills remain in Anderson’s fear when he is pulled over by law enforcement, or the anguish Griffin felt about Breonna Taylor’s death at the hands of police.

“We definitely would love the Black community come to the Juneteenth event, but Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom for some,” Anderson said. “Me personally, I don’t think we’ve hit that freedom celebration mark.”

It’s one example why Adams, Anderson and Artists in Activism titled the Marysville Juneteenth event, “Freedom Deferred.” They invited Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, who is white, to speak, as well as Black candidates for elected office Joshua Binda, Joyce Copley, Brandy Donaghy and Clarence Shaw, and state Reps. John Lovick and April Berg.

“Obviously speeches and words are critical and help us remember things, but we also want to talk about what actions we’re taking,” Nehring said, citing the diversity committee he formed as mayor about nine years ago that was rejuvenated with new members over the past year. “I think it’s important for people like myself and others in leadership to listen and understand where people of color are coming from, and let them take the lead, and not assume we have the solutions.”

The event includes a discussion with police department chiefs and a performance art piece.

“I hope people take the opportunity to learn and appreciate the struggles that Black Americans have had to face to get to the point where the Black Lives Matter movement has become an outcry,” Adams said. “It wasn’t that it just happened, it was something that was fought for.”

With the holiday’s statewide recognition next year, Griffin said he envisions the day when Juneteenth lessons are taught in schools across the country, similar to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement.

“I remember when Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday was not a holiday, but those in the Black community celebrated it,” Griffin said. “Today, there are kids who have no concept that it was never a holiday. But now when it comes around, there are kids all over the country writing poems, reciting his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.”

Other Juneteenth events are scheduled every day next week, culminating June 19 at Forest Park in Everett, a drive-thru in Lynnwood, a justice march in Monroe, plus a virtual concert by Lady A and Black history storytelling with Eva Abram. The full schedule is available at beloved4all.org/juneteenth2021.

“We want people to walk away with feeling like they’re a part of the progress that we’ve made as a country,” Harris said. “We want people to leave with a sense of responsibility to carry forward the legacy and the principles of this country.”

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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