by Rajkhet Dirzhud-Rashid -
SGN A&E Writer
One of my memories of just-elected mayor Greg Nickels was his confession at Dr. Martin Luther King Day rally that he'd never heard of Juneteenth until someone about a day before had mentioned it to him. It seemed incredibly naïve and, at the time, I thought, rather humble.
True, my thoughts on hizzoner have changed since then, but this is not that story. This is the story of a celebration that many Seattleites, black and white ones, have little knowledge about, but that's been going on at Pratt Park (where it's been held, and championed by Central District Chamber of Commerce member Dee Charlene, who owns a beauty salon and boutique near 23rd and Madison).
The celebration commemorates a date in history, when, after abolishing slavery all over the United States, the knowledge of this event did not reach slaves in Texas until June 19, though other slaves throughout the U.S. had already known they were free for weeks before. It is a huge deal in Texas (my home state), and no one there hasn't heard the story, and partied with relatives and friends around a barbecue grill, with tables laden with all sorts of Southern treats.
In the Northwest, however, blacks are a physical minority, outnumbered by whites, Asians and in some neighborhoods of late, Latinos, and many of those transplanted blacks were born on the East Coast where Juneteenth isn't as big a deal as it is in Texas.
This slight was rectified by community activist Dee Charlene, who said that she has had death threats leveled at her over the years for continuing to be a large part of the organizing effort for the area's Juneteenth celebration. She was also upset on a recent occasion, when I ran into her outside of her shop, and she questioned why another local activist had thought it a good idea to stage a protest against Reverend Jeffries, a noted homophobe who is in support of other noted homophobe Reverend Ken Hutcherson.
"They would have walked that march right through my Juneteenth celebration and I wondered what could have made them think that seemed a good idea," said Charlene, clearly outraged that no one had thought to consult with Juneteenth organizers, so that the ethnic celebration wasn't disturbed.
She did not say she agreed with Hutcherson, or Jeffries, just that she didn't want the annual celebration for local blacks interfered with.
So, if you haven't been to this taste of black culture, then do join those who gather to honor a hallmark in black history on Friday, June 19 and Saturday, June 20 at Pratt Park, for an all-day family event that'll include food, music and community fellowship. Everyone is welcome, and Charlene said she hopes to see more people show up this year than there have been in years past.
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