In preparation for this year’s Juneteenth celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, organizers are planning a march through Seattle’s Central District, with frequent stops to point out historical spots significant to the city’s Black community.
The Juneteenth Freedom March, both a celebration of freedom and a protest against persistent racial injustice, will begin at 2 p.m. Friday, June 19 at DeCharlene’s Beauty Salon, at East Madison Street and 22nd Avenue East. Marchers will walk down 23rd Avenue until they hit Jimi Hendrix Park, where organizers are putting together a people’s assembly — complete with food, musical performances and speakers.
The march is hosted by the King County Equity Now Coalition, a Black-led group of community-based organizations fighting to achieve racial equity.
TraeAnna Holiday, a community organizer who’s helping plan the march, said she expects 10,000 to 15,000 people. Holiday works with Africatown Community Land Trust to acquire, develop and steward land in the Central District to support the African diaspora community.
“This is a celebration of our culture throughout Seattle,” Holiday said. “That’s what this walk is about.”
The day will start at DeCharlene’s Beauty Salon to honor its former owner, DeCharlene Williams, and her work organizing Juneteenth celebrations over the years, Holiday said. Williams, who was known as a pillar of the Black community, also founded the Central Area Chamber of Commerce before her death in May 2018.
“My grandma told the story of … how [Madison Street] was a huge hub for Black business and Black culture,” Holiday said. “DeCharlene was largely responsible for that.”
Williams’ daughter, Rita, will open the salon Friday, reflecting her mother’s legacy in the community.
As the march proceeds down 23rd Avenue, it’ll pass the Meredith Mathews East Madison YMCA, founded in 1936, that supported Seattle’s Black community, according to its executive director, Greg Lewis.
“The YMCA Board of Directors at the time felt like there was a big need for services … in the Central District that were primarily for Black people because none existed before that time,” Lewis said.
After that, the YMCA, located at 23rd Avenue and East Olive Street, started offering youth programs, mentorship opportunities and social events — and more recently, health and wellness services and classes.
“This place has been iconic in the Black community for a long, long time,” Lewis said. “Not only to help youth achieve their goals and dreams, but also to support Black excellence with musicians who have played here.”
On Friday, Lewis and some YMCA staffers will set up a booth outside the building to greet marchers and offer snacks as they walk by.
“We’re excited to be part of it,” he said. “This was a great opportunity to revitalize things that took place in this community for decades … and to show that we’re standing with them and protesting against racism, protesting against inequality, protesting against police brutality.”
Organizers have planned the next stop at the corner of 23rd Avenue and East Union Street.
“We’re really celebrating the rich history of the cultural hub that was vibrant on Union throughout the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and into the 2000s. There’s so much history there,” Holiday said.
The neighborhood was alive with jazz and good food, she said, reminiscing about Thompson’s Point of View and Sammy’s Burgers, restaurants that have since closed. She also remembers nightclubs, record stores and little cafes — all Black-owned.
“A lot of these places are so gentrified and that’ll be a part of the history of the area … But it doesn’t have to be gone gone,” she said. “We want to talk about how we can activate spaces and bring the culture back to the area.”
After the East Union Street stop, the group will continue down 23rd Avenue to East Cherry Street, where the group will discuss the history of Garfield High School, located a few blocks away.
They’ll then hit East Yesler Way, where decommissioned Fire Station 6 sits. Recently there’s been a push to turn the building into the William Grose Center for Innovation — named after a Black pioneer of Seattle — which would incubate and boost Black-owned businesses.
“We’re going to talk about what that building is going to look like and how that was a historic win,” Holiday said.
Up next is Jackson Street, where organizers will touch on the “predatory development that’s wrecked the Central Area,” Holiday said.
“The history along the march is super important to us,” Holiday said. “It’s why we do the work we do, and why preserving the Black community in these areas is so important to us.”
The march will culminate with a teach-in at Jimi Hendrix Park — named for the famous rock musician who was born and raised in Seattle — at 23rd Avenue and South Massachusetts Street. Holiday said one of the speakers will be Nikkita Oliver, a lawyer and activist who’s been a leader during recent protests over the death of George Floyd and racial injustice.
After an opening ceremony — where leaders will acknowledge this year’s Black graduates — the crowd will break into discussion groups to strategize how to tackle a number of community issues, including health and wellness, public safety and youth engagement, Holiday said.
The group will reconvene later for stage performances. A wide variety of talent is on the schedule: spoken word, hip-hop, choir and African dance and drumming.
“It’s about Black brilliance and pride,” Holiday said. “And education is key … We really appreciate those protesters being down there. But we also want to be educating along the way. It’s not just about ‘Let’s get out and show our frustration.’ … We want people to walk away from our event with a sense of understanding.”
The Northwest African American Museum, which sits in the southwest corner of the park, is joining the celebration by partnering with five other Black museums. They’re planning to release a Juneteenth commemoration video Friday at 9 a.m.
Holiday added that she and her fellow organizers are hoping to build off the energy and passion stirred up by the recent protests.
“These protests are a sign of the times,” she said. “They’re zeitgeists. We have to be very smart and … utilize that energy that’s being felt throughout the city.”