About 150 people gathered at Esperance Park Sunday to celebrate the newest federal holiday, Juneteenth.
Juneteeth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform enslaved people that the Civil War was over, and that they were free. The Edmonds-based Lift Every Voice Legacy, led by Donnie Griffin, observed the day with a Juneteenth Kind of Father’s Day celebration at Esperance Park, operated by Snohomish County in unincorporated Esperance.
Juneteenth celebrations have occurred for decades, but since President Joe Biden established it as a federal holiday of independence, many more communities across the nation are observing it with parades, art events and other festivities.
Biden wrote in his 2022 Juneteenth proclamation: “Last year, I was proud to sign bipartisan legislation establishing Juneteenth as our newest federal holiday, so that all Americans can feel the power of this day, learn from our history, celebrate our progress, and recognize and engage in the work that continues. Great nations do not ignore their most painful moments — they face them. We grow stronger as a country when we honestly confront our past injustices, including the profound suffering and injustice wrought by slavery and generations of segregation and discrimination against Black Americans. To heal, we must remember. We must never rest until the promise of our nation is made real for all Americans.”
“It is really a way to think about this new holiday,” Griffin said, “and to embrace what the notion of freedom and the value of equality and justice for all is. It was 157 years ago when an outpost of African Americans who were held in slavery were told, ‘you are no longer in bondage’ – and I just can’t imagine what that must have felt like to them.”
Griffin has spent time reflecting on the meaning of Juneteenth and explained that although it was a very disruptive time, he believes that over the years we are making steps to celebrate the foundation of freedom and when and how it all began.
Performers for Sunday’s event included Tyler Beauchamp, who sang Lift Every Voice and Sing, the Washington Diamonds Drill Team led by Fawn Sterling and the Northwest Tap Connection directed by Melba Ayco.
In addition, Garry Clark, president/CEO of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County, spoke at the gathering.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen attended, as did mayors of three South Snohomish County cities: Mike Nelson from Edmonds, Christine Frizzell from Lynnwood and Kyoko Matsumoto Wright from Mountlake Terrace.
Also attending were Edmonds City Councilmember Will Chen, Lynnwood City Council President George Hurst, and Lynnwood City Councilmembers Shirley Sutton and Josh Binda.
Virginia Clough, City clerk/community relations director for the City of Mountlake Terrace, said that we can’t ignore that slavery happened. “I’ll be honest. I’d never heard of Juneteenth until last year when Mountlake Terrace adopted a resolution,” Clough said. “For me it’s an opportunity to learn what it means to other people who didn’t have the privileges that I had as a white person, and for me to hear what Juneteenth means to other people and share those stories with people who grew up like me.”
Activities during the day included games, face painting, arts and crafts and a chance to explore the forest trails of Esperance Park, an experience for people who have lived in the area for years but had no idea the park — located at 7830 222nd St. S.W. in Edmonds — existed.
“I’m excited that Juneteenth is now federally recognized,” said Pat Valle, former chairperson of the Edmonds Diversity Commission. “I am embarrassed to say that as a history teacher I didn’t understand Juneteenth and now I do – it’s like a second declaration of emancipation and I’m so glad we’re getting an opportunity to celebrate another victory.”
Tyler Beauchamp wrapped up the event by singing Dance with My Father, a Luther Vandross song that has become a Father’s Day tradition for people across the globe.
Griffin shared parting words of hope: “There is a lot of work we still have left to do, but there is joy that Juneteenth happened, and to think of generational slaves being told that they were free — in some cases, by Black Union soldiers — certainly brings a lot of joy.”
A Juneteenth Kind of Father’s Day was sponsored by Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee, Community Transit, YWCA Seattle King Snohomish, Hunniwater, City of Lynnwood Racial and Social Justice Team, City of Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, Lynnwood City Councilmember Shirley Sutton, Mountlake Terrace City Councilmember Steve Woodard and his wife Liz, Feed Me Hospitality and Restaurant Group, Millennia Ministries, Papa D’s BBQ, Cranked Up Consulting, Black Coffee Northwest and the Edmonds Bookshop.
— Story and photos by Misha Carter