Growing up near Bothell, Amanda Luckett and Amanda Chamba would come to the Central District on weekends and summer days.
“Our parents took us here so we could be around people who look like us on a regular basis,” said Chamba, 21. “It is definitely a home, even though neither of us grew up here.”
Now, she said, “We don’t see us anymore.”
Luckett and Chamba were back in the neighborhood Saturday, joining around 1,000 others in Seattle to celebrate Juneteenth, the holiday marking the day in 1865 when, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free.
“It’s important we get out here to represent our culture and let people know we’re here to stay,” said Luckett, 22.
As the holiday gained unprecedented national prominence this year, organizers in Seattle struck a tone of both celebration and resistance, honoring the history of the city’s fast-gentrifying Central District and making demands for the present and the future.
Because of racist housing policy, Seattle’s Black population was long concentrated in the Central District, but today the area is only about 15% Black and the rate of Black homeownership across King County has plummeted.
“Today is about breaking the loop,” said Isaac Joy, president of King County Equity Now, which organized the event with Africatown Community Land Trust. “We’ve been in a centurylong endless loop of really toothless, piecemeal, grab-bag proposals and policies aimed to sound good and appease a largely white base without any real change or bringing about sustained improvement in Black communities.”
The sound of the Washington Diamonds Drill Team and the Electronettes Hi-Steppers Drill Team filled the corridor of 23rd Avenue as marchers flowed from the legendary DeCharlene’s Beauty Salon south toward Jimi Hendrix Park.
Rita Green wore a red T-shirt bearing a photo of her late mother, DeCharlene Williams, who owned the salon, founded the Central Area Chamber of Commerce and organized celebrations of Juneteenth.
“She was the one who brought it here and we’re keeping it going,” Green said.
With an uptick in attention to the holiday this year, 76-year-old Barb Tiller decided to attend the march for the first time.
For much of her life, Tiller said she heard little about the holiday.
“There wasn’t anything taught in school,” Tiller said. “There wasn’t any Black history.”
Chamba and Luckett, both involved in their college Black student unions, said they hope that beyond becoming a national holiday, Juneteenth will get the same reverence and widespread understanding as other holidays.
“I was not free on the Fourth of July. I don’t celebrate that day. It’s not for me,” Chamba said.
Waiting for the march to begin, Erica Mallett, 32, said she was struck by the day’s “juxtaposition” as lawmakers increasingly forbid teaching critical race theory in schools.
“We made this a federal holiday, but we’re also banning really important work that helps us unpack systemic racism,” Mallett said.
“We need to remember our history,” she said.
At stops along 23rd, organizers called on Seattle and King County to direct $300 million from recent federal stimulus to Black-led housing and health care efforts, like the planned Tubman Center for Health and Freedom, Africatown Community Land Trust’s planned William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation & Enterprise to support Black-owned businesses at Fire Station 6 and others.
“This generational moment of funding — how did that occur?” Joy, of King County Equity Now, said of the federal stimulus funding. “Because Stacey Abrams and Black people organized in Georgia.”
Along the route, 35-year-old Ajibu Timbo stood with his 2-year-old son on his hip watching the crowd pass. The family came from their home in the neighborhood to watch after celebrating his wife’s birthday, said Timbo, who moved to the United States from Sierra Leone in 2014.
“I want to show them the culture, the different types of Black roots and customs,” Timbo said of his 5- and 2-year-old sons.
At 23rd and Jackson, a crowd gathered in lawn chairs to cheer on the march; others peered down from apartments above. At Jimi Hendrix Park, dozens of booths dotted the grass for a “celebration of the Black freedom struggle, Black power, arts, business, joy, safety, and more” that stretched well into the sunny afternoon.
“This is beautiful,” said Mallett back at the start of the march as the drum line played. “Black people are beautiful. This day is beautiful. I hope we continue to celebrate the beauty and also overcoming the hardships. I know I will.”
Information from The Seattle Times archives was included.