They were among hundreds of people gathered Sunday for the Chocolate City Jubilee at DC’s Freedom Plaza to commemorate June 19, the federal holiday symbolizing the end of slavery in the United States – a day Nee Nee Taylor described as centered on black joy, black freedom and black liberty. people.
“It’s a day of recognition…the purpose is to educate people on what it’s going to take to save ourselves and continue to work for our freedom,” said Taylor, co-conductor of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, a self-help and advocacy organization that hosted the event.
While a few streets away thousands paid hundreds of dollars a head for a three-day pass to the Something in the Water music festival hosted by Pharrell Williams, Harriet’s Wildest Dreams held an event with free food and performances by local black vendors, artists and musicians.
“It’s all free because it’s freedom day,” Taylor said.
Juneteenth is a mash-up of “June 19” and marks the day in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas were told they were free – more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Generations of black families have commemorated the date, but the celebration gained national visibility following social unrest following the 2020 killing of George Floyd.
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For some, Juneteenth was a time to reflect on the scope of the conversation about racial injustice and the legacy of slavery.
Michael Brown, 56, a fundraising professor at the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said he first heard of Juneteenth in his 30s. Brown said that in New Orleans, where he was born, his high school never taught him the day, but he wasn’t surprised.
“You don’t really want to deal with the history of slavery because then you have to talk about the injustices. Whether or not these injustices happen now, you must be prepared to address them,” Brown said.
He still doesn’t see a real dialogue about the legacy of slavery, which is a very difficult conversation to have, he said, but “we’re getting closer.”
The recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday has sparked mixed feelings among some black organizers.
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Qiana Johnson, 41, founder of Life after liberation, a Prince George’s County organization that supports formerly incarcerated women, is feeling bittersweet now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday. She worries a day meant for conversations about slavery and commemorating her ancestors and their struggle is being commercialized by corporations.
“They do things like have ice cream flavors, T-shirts to sell, and do other things that leverage real black liberation,” Johnson said.
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After advocates gave speeches, which included a call to stop the displacement of black residents in the city, artists from across the DC area gathered around music, “an essential part of the joy black and black love,” said singer-songwriter Liv Grace. , who also performed at the event.
Grace, 20, started writing and sampling her songs to raise awareness of issues affecting the black community, including incarceration. She said her community has spent a lot of time sad and struggling, but this day is an opportunity to bring everyone together to recognize their accomplishments.
“We have so much love and there’s so much to celebrate in our culture,” Grace said.