Editor’s note: This is a live account of Juneteenth updates from Friday, June 19, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see the full story.
Today marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States and has been observed by African Americans since the late 1800s as a celebration of freedom and resilience.
This year in Seattle, it marks a call to action. Organizers have planned a series of events to celebrate the history of the city’s Black community and protest the persistent racial injustice it faces. Thousands of people are expected at a Freedom March that will showcase significant places in the Central District. Here’s what their route will look like:
Throughout Friday, on this page, we’ll post updates from Seattle Times journalists and others on the holiday and related events in the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world.
Performers share powerful messages through song, dance, poetry at Jimi Hendrix Park
Singers, poets, rappers and dancers continue to perform at Jimi Hendrix Park as part of the Juneteenth Freedom March and People's Assembly, honoring Black victims of police brutality, reminding crowds to support local Black businesses and reinforcing the importance of educating future generations.
One speaker shared a poem centered around "simunye," a South African word that means: "We are one." A pair of singers opened their song, dedicated to Black Lives Matter, by playing a clip from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech. And another singer, who performed a cover of Andra Day's "Rise Up," shouted to the crowd mid-song: "Without community we don't have unity … So we need to rise together."
One man took the microphone to urge the crowd to vote in November.
"I appreciate you all being here, but it doesn't mean nothing if you don't vote," he said, adding "that White House is my house and your house."
Watch a livestream of performances here.
Central District march arrives at Jimi Hendrix Park for speeches, musical performances
The Juneteenth Freedom March, which moved through Seattle's Central District, has arrived at Jimi Hendrix Park on 23rd Avenue South and South Massachusetts Street, where speakers say they have a "big show" planned.
Marcia Tate Arunga, the academic dean of The Evergreen State College, kicked off the rally with a moment of silence.
"Let's have a moment of silence for all who have fallen at hands of police, fallen at the hands of COVID, fallen at the hands of hate," she said to the crowd.
Crowds of marchers flooded into the park, according to multiple livestreams, gathering in front of a makeshift stage to listen to speakers, musicians and activists.
Rita Green, daughter of the late DeCharlene Williams, took the microphone to speak about her mother, who brought Juneteenth to Seattle almost 40 years ago and founded the Central Area Chamber of Commerce.
"She would be so happy," Green said, tearing up. "She wanted nothing more for the Black community to be together, fight for economic justice for our people and she wanted us to have unity together."
Around 5:30 p.m., speakers invited Black graduates — at all levels of education — up to the stage.
Juneteenth Freedom March passes decommissioned Fire Station 6
The Juneteenth Freedom March in Seattle's Central District just passed 23rd Avenue and East Yesler Way — where the decommissioned Fire Station 6 sits — according to multiple livestreams of the event.
Community members are hoping to turn the abandoned building into the William Grose Center for Innovation — named after a 19th-century Black businessman whose vast landholdings became the heart of the Central District — which would incubate and boost Black-owned businesses.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan last week agreed to transfer the station to the community.
As the crowd continued marching down 23rd Avenue, the group chanted "Free the land!" and "What do we want? Equity!"
Not This Time! rally for next steps toward racial justice
Community organizers from Seattle nonprofit Not This Time! celebrated Juneteenth with a rally specifically dedicated to determining what the next steps might be for making progress toward racial justice.
Not This Time!, an organization committed to reducing fatal police shootings and creating safer communities, hosted the rally in Judkins Park on Friday afternoon, which featured emotional testimonies from local speakers whose family members were killed by police.
“As families, we’re sick and tired and being the victims and the false narratives being put out there,” said Sonia Joseph, the mother of Giovonn Jospeh McDade, who was fatally shot in June 2017 by a Kent police officer. “All of our families are fighting for accountability in Washington state and in all the states.”
The three-hour rally focused on criminal justice reform with Taylor urging the crowd of hundreds to support Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Director Dow Constantine and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and hold them accountable.
Durkan who received a smattering of boos from critics and was lampooned by a demonstrator wearing a costume that read “Mayor Teargas.”
“These last two weeks have been so hard, but so inspiring,” Durkan said. “We can’t miss this opportunity. Tens of thousands of people in Seattle taking the streets, but millions across America raising their voices who have not been hard by me and other people in government. We need to do more and I need to do more. I need to do more. I’m here not because I’m Seattle’s mayor, but because I’m your mayor.”
Juneteenth Freedom March underway
The Juneteenth Freedom March, organized by the King County Equity Now Coalition, has kicked off.
The march, which winds through significant Black landmarks in Seattle’s Central District, was created in part to educate attendees on the cultural significance of the area to the Black community. It began at DeCharlene's Beauty Salon on 22nd Avenue and Madison Street.
DeCharlene Williams, who was from Temple, Texas, brought Juneteenth to Seattle some 37 years ago, her daughter Rita Green told the crowd. Williams died in 2018, and since then, Green has committed to keeping Williams’ business from succumbing to gentrification in the Central District.
About 3 p.m., the crowd passed a Black Lives Matter mural over Uncle Ike’s recreational marijuana dispensary at 23rd Avenue and Union Street, a corner where Black people were once arrested for selling weed prior to legalization.
The march is set to end at Jimi Hendrix Park at 23rd Avenue and South Massachusetts Street.
Amid protests for racial justice, Juneteenth gets new attention
A traditional day of celebration turned into one of protest Friday, as Americans marked Juneteenth, a holiday that long commemorated the emancipation of enslaved African Americans but that burst into the national conversation this year after widespread demonstrations against police brutality and racism.
In addition to the traditional cookouts and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation — the Civil War-era order that declared all slaves free in Confederate territory — Americans were marching, holding sit-ins or car caravan protests.
In Nashville, Tennessee, about two dozen black men, most wearing suits, quietly stood arm in arm Friday morning in front of the city’s criminal courts. Behind them was a statue of Justice Adolpho Birch, the first African American to serve as chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.
“If you were uncomfortable standing out here in a suit, imagine how you would feel with a knee to your neck,” said Phillip McGee, one of the demonstrators, referring to George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes.
Majority of Americans support police protests, new poll finds
Ahead of the Juneteenth holiday weekend’s demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality, a majority of Americans say they approve of recent protests around the country. Many think they’ll bring positive change.
And despite headline-making standoffs between law enforcement and protesters in cities nationwide, the poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds a majority of Americans think law enforcement officers have generally responded to the protests appropriately. Somewhat fewer say the officers used excessive force.
The findings follow weeks of peaceful protests and unrest in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died pleading for air as a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee on his neck for nearly eight minutes on May 25. A dramatic change in public opinion on race and policing has followed, with more Americans today than five years ago calling police violence a very serious problem that unequally targets Black Americans.
Juneteenth march in North Seattle
Several hundred people gathered on a ballfield on Phinney Ridge, near the Woodland Park Zoo, on Friday morning for a Juneteenth march for justice and equality.
At noon, the protesters marched into Ballard for a second rally and more speeches.
Speaking to a mostly white audience, Black and Native American activists read the Emancipation Proclamation, talked about the history of Juneteenth and urged people gathered on the grassy playfield to think about how they could use their positions and power to help bring about racial justice.
One speaker who grew up in the Central District said that as a child, she grew up thinking that Ballard was a space where she did not belong. She could not remember a time when mostly white neighborhoods had joined the fight against racism, she said.
Organizer Dmarkis Wigfall, a stylist at Rudy’s, challenged the mostly-white audience to “wake up” and think about the nature of prejudice. “Every day is a protest for me because of the way I look,” said Wigfall, who said he hoped to change is “how white America sees us.”
Two politicians also encouraged the crowd to keep the pressure up.
State Sen. Marko Liias called for changes to the criminal justice system, including an end to the death penalty and the three-strikes sentencing rule.
“I’m asking all of you in the audience to not give me and my colleagues a break until we deliver justice,” he said. “No one should die at the hands of their own government.”
Seattle City Councilman Dan Strauss, who grew up just blocks from the Phinney neighborhood playground, said the few black neighbors he had growing up eventually moved out of the neighborhood because they did not feel safe.
He said he’s had more phone calls on issues of racial justice than any other issue. “Keep those calls up, don’t let the pressure down,” he said.
300 gather near Pioneer Square for Juneteenth rally
Nearly 300 people gathered at Terminal 46 near Pioneer Square for a Juneteenth rally organized by Seattle's longshore union and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
Under a cobalt-blue sky dotted by container cranes, protesters carried signs saying, "This is a revolt against racism" and chanted, "An injury to one is an injury to all," repurposing the longshore union's slogan into a rallying cry against racism.
"It's gonna take more than marching in the street. It's going to take more than protesting," said Gabriel Prawl, of the Local 52 Clerks, calling on protesters to occupy the halls of power to dismantle racism from the top. "Brothers and sisters, I know you care. That's why you're here. This is running like a forest fire, brothers and sisters."
Pastor Paul Benz, co-director of the Faith Action Network, referenced Black labor leaders: "A. Philip Randolph stood up to the white railway owners and said we're not going to take it anymore. Our Black porters are going to be organized."
The rally is ongoing. Protesters will next march one mile to the Washington Department of Corrections field office on Fourth Avenue South.
Northwest African American Museum hosts virtual experience honoring Black leaders
The Northwest African American Museum in Seattle partnered with five Black museums throughout the United States to create a virtual Juneteenth celebration, in hopes of honoring some of the country's prominent Black leaders and educating the public about the history of the holiday.
LaNesha DeBardelaben, the museum's executive director, said she and her team wanted to make sure coronavirus closures didn't prevent people from celebrating the day.
"This year is like none other. These times are like none other. We know Juneteenth this year will be like none other," DeBardelaben said. "From (June 19, 1865) to this day, the nation has not seen any moments as radical and as raw as we're seeing now with the brutal violence ... against Black lives."
The hour-and-a-half virtual experience features three trailblazers in U.S. history:
- Lonnie Bunch, the first Black person to serve as head of the Smithsonian Institution
- Carla Hayden, the first Black person and first woman to become the Librarian of Congress
- Johnetta Cole, the only person to become president of both Spelman College and Bennett College, both historically Black colleges
"We're hoping Juneteenth will inform and inspire people," she said. "Knowledge is power. The first step toward action is to first become informed and to develop critical thinking around these social justice matters. We're hoping Juneteenth will bring us to a greater knowledge of the truth."
The museum, which sits in Jimi Hendrix Park in Seattle's Central District, is also planning to support the Juneteenth Freedom March celebration in the park this afternoon.
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