TACOMA, Wash. - Recognition and celebration of Juneteenth is growing across the nation and in Washington. Communities throughout the Puget Sound area are taking time to learn and commemorate the history of the holiday.
Wednesday launched several days full of Juneteenth events in Tacoma. Mayor Victoria Woodards said it was the city’s first official Juneteenth celebration. For some, it’s also an opportunity for education.
"If I’m still learning as an African American… then that means we can all be vulnerable and honest and say we all need to learn. Because when we learn, when we educate ourselves, we can serve better," said Woodards.
Many across the nation are learning about the history and significance of Juneteenth. In January 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, stating all enslaved people in the rebelling states of the Confederacy should be free, including Texas. However, for more than two and a half years, the order was not enforced in Texas and African American slaves did not know they were free. After the Civil War ended, a general traveled to Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, to inform more than 250,000 slaves of their freedom.
"I call Juneteenth a commemoration because it is a long, long time coming in our history. And we still are not free," said Dr. Marcia Tate Arunga, Dean at the Tacoma campus of Evergreen State College.
Black people have overcome trials and tribulations throughout American history, but even after all those years hardships remain.
"It takes a really big person to stand up and say I recognize I wasn’t the one, but I am part of a system that has caused so many problems for African Americans in this country," said Woodards. "We use Juneteenth—we take that day to really educate ourselves, recommit ourselves to making sure that every one of our brothers and sisters —no matter what the color of their skin is —recognize the hardships that they’ve been through and hardships that systems have caused them. And we do our best to do our part to make a difference."
After calls for social justice and taking a stand against systemic racism, in December 2021, Tacoma City Council recognized Juneteenth as a holiday for city workers. In May 2021, Washington state proclaimed Juneteenth a legal paid holiday.
Nationally, President Joe Biden signed a bill making it a federal holiday the following month.
"Having it be recognized not only on a state level but a national level only supports that narrative, that truth that we’re here, we’ve been here, we matter, we’re important. And I think that’s important for us to see in real time, especially in today’s climate," said Sascha Nixon, chairman of BUILD – Washington State Blacks United In Leadership & Diversity.
BUILD is a Black resource group for state workers created to provide more equity within state work. Nixon said the group’s vision is to have more Black leaders getting higher positions, challenging the status quo and changing the narrative in state employment.
BUILD is hosting its Juneteenth Freedom Day event on Thursday, June 16 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Tivoli Fountain, on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.
"This isn’t just for our community. Other people will be partaking and witnessing and learning and hopefully that will inspire them to be advocates and allies on behalf of the black community," said Nixon.