By Rachel Friederich, ICSEW Communications Chair
This Saturday is Juneteenth, also known as ‘Emancipation Day,” and “Freedom Day. It commemorates June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers at Galveston, Texas—the westernmost state in the former Confederacy—brought the news that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved people were now free. The news didn’t arrive to enslaved African Americans in Texas until two and half years after then President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered all states in the Confederacy to release enslaved people and put an end to chattel slavery, the system which allowed Blacks to be bought, sold and owned forever.
While Juneteenth as been long celebrated in African American communities, its history has been marginalized and still remains largely unknown to the wider public. The Juneteenth holiday is meant as an occasion for celebration, it also offers an opportunity to learn about and reflect about the definition of freedom and the ongoing struggle for Black people to achieve true equity and not fall victim to systemic oppression. The history of systemic racism in our country has directly impacted the work that we do in corrections.
While more needs to be done to address racial bias and address institutional racism, we’re proud of the work the state of Washington has done to be a leader to conquer these societal evils.
One recent step is the creation of the Blacks United in Leadership and Diversity (BUILD) business resource group. BUILD offers support to state agencies in creating more inclusive workspaces for people of color. Members of BUILD have spoken at several past ICSEW meetings and we’ve participated with BUILD in numerous diversity, equity and inclusion activities with BUILD. We look forward to continuing our allyship with BUILD.
And just this year, the state legislature designated Juneteenth as state holiday.
In honor of Juneteenth, ICSEW would like to share some resources and opportunities to find out more about the day’s history compiled from the Washington State Employee Assistance Program’s June 2021 Employee Frontline newsletter.
- Listen to Laura Smalley, a formerly enslaved person in Texas, describe what it was like to hear the news about freedom on that first Juneteenth in 1865
- Listen to a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and learn more about the history of the Proclamation
- Take a video tour of the Slavery and Freedom collection at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which includes items such as Nat Turner's bible and freedom papers of free African Americans
- Learn more about Juneteenth: watch the Roots’ “I Am A Slave” animated music video about the end of slavery, from the TV show black-ish or take a deeper dive into the history at BlackPast.org
- Attend a free Juneteenth celebration at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, on June 19th from 10 am - 5 pm
- Get out in nature – go to a state park for free: Juneteenth has been designated as a “Discover Pass free day” so on Saturday, June 19th you can explore Washington state parks and recreation lands for free.
- Read about the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South, in award-winning The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (she also wrote Caste)
- Research your family’s history with help from the Black Heritage Society of Washington State and honor the tradition of early Juneteenth celebrations when Black Texans gathered to try to locate missing relatives, and then marked the day by holding family reunions.
- View a free webinar about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and other events that many of us didn’t learn about in school
- Attend a free Juneteenth virtual literary festival offered by the New York Public Library on June 14-19