A Juneteenth like none other

George Floyd’s murder and Trump in Tulsa indelibly marked this celebration

News Analysis

The Juneteenth celebrations that took place in North and South Minneapolis and St. Paul last Friday, June 19 were similar to past years’ observances, but this year they took on a more pressing tone as the issue of  police violence in the wake of George Floyd’s death loomed over the community.

In North Minneapolis people gathered outside Cub Food on W. Broadway to celebrate, honor and commemorate what it means to be Black in America with all the triumphs and struggles that includes. The celebration included free food, poetry, music, dancing (the electric slide), speeches, and even a march down Broadway Avenue demanding prosecution of the police who killed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

“It’s the celebration of our ancestors and the struggles we’ve had to get through and what we’re still going through, but we can get through together,” said participant Constance Caston.

The scent of burgers on the grill wafted through the crowd and children ran and laughed, fueled by hot dogs and cotton candy. Not only was there celebrating, but there was material support for the community. Food donations were available for those in need, and masks and sanitation protocols were in place to promote a safe gathering.

This year, Juneteenth falls in the midst of mass demonstrations against police brutality and Donald Trump’s aggressive, race-baiting tactics to reignite his 2020 campaign. Although Juneteenth celebrates freedom for Black people in the United States, it is also a stark reminder of the adversity Black people have struggled to overcome and continue to face in our country.

On June 19, 1865 slaves in Galveston, Texas were notified of the end of their slavery. This came over two years after slavery was officially abolished with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The date of June 19 symbolizes the day all former slaves knew they were free; it also represents how emancipation was unjustly delayed for those in the border states of the Confederacy.

 This year’s celebration was marred a bit by U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 19.Trump eventually yielded to the outcry from African American communities nationwide and moved the rally ahead one day to Saturday, June 20.

The decision still seems to exacerbate the growing racial tensions, a result of the continued brutalization of Blacks by police across the country. For many, Trump’s determination to hold the event on a significant weekend of Black celebration symbolizes his and many of his followers’ animosity towards the growing  movement to end police violence and racial injustice in this country.

The significance of the date and location of the Trump campaign rally — the site of the Tulsa Massacre in 1921–was not lost on those who are familiar with the history of the city. For many Black folks it was another slap in the face from Trump, who has reprimanded protesters and praised law enforcement and White Supremacist agitators.

The entire Juneteenth weekend served as a remembrance of those who were targeted and killed simply because of the color of their skin. Greenwood, as Tulsa’s Black district was known, was an affluent African American community commonly referred to as “Black Wall Street.” In 1921 it was looted and destroyed by White rioters who resented the community’s prosperity. After 24 hours of violence, over 35 blocks of Black-owned homes and businesses were nothing but smoking charred remains, an estimated 800 citizens were injured, and over 300 African Americans were murdered.

 This year’s celebration also brought back memories of the race riots of a century ago known as The Red Summer of 1919, in which  Blacks’ new-found confidence after having fought alongside White troops in World War l led to White resentment. Several U.S. cities including Chicago and the nation’s capitol were scenes of White terrorism aimed at Blacks.

The destruction and unrest in Greenwood in 1921 and the riots that broke out across the country during The Red Summer of 1919 mirror the looting and burning of multiple minority-owned businesses by White Supremacists and other White agents of mayhem during the first three days of protests following George Floyd’s murder.

 The Twin Cities celebrations all took time out to remember George Floyd, whose horrific execution in Minneapolis lit the fuse that ignited protests around the world. They also acknowledged and demanded justice for Breonna Taylor, shot eight times in her own home by Louisville police officers; Ahmaud Arbery, who was hunted down and killed by White supremacist vigilantes while jogging near his home; Rayshard Brooks, who was shot in the back and killed by officers in Atlanta; and Tony McDade, a transgender man killed by Tallahassee police.

Speakers also acknowledged that there are countless others who were taken from loved ones by police violence, many without a video or hashtag, who have been swept under the rug and failed by the justice system.

As David Billingsley led the crowd outside Cub in a rendition of “Lean on Me,” they raised their fists and voices together. Juneteenth last weekend was a reminder of how far the Black community has come in its fight for freedom, and how far it still has to go.

Vanessa Boreland welcomes reader responses to vboreland@spokesman-recorder.com.