June 19, 1865, is the day enslaved African Americans in Confederate Galveston, Texas, learned that they were free — 2½ years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth, observed on June 19, not only commemorates freedom, but honors and celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans.
Thought to form Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack signed legislation making Juneteenth a state holiday in 2002, some Iowa communities have only recently started celebrating it. After George Floyd’s murder, some communities turned their gaze to Black Americans and history, asking, “What can we do differently?” One of those things has been to honor Juneteenth. When President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021, more acknowledged it.
What’s the right way to celebrate Juneteenth?
First off, don’t commodify it.
For Abena Sankofa Imhotep, founder of Sankofa Literary & Empowerment Group and host of several Juneteenth events, “commodify” in this context means to position a day or event that is sacred to Black people as something that can be bought or sold. “For instance, Dr. King Day. Ms. Coretta Scott King fought for 25 years or more to get that day recognized as his birthday, recognized as a federal holiday,” Imhotep said. “That’s great. But now what we see is mattress sales on Dr. King Day and ‘Get a good interest rate if you buy a car’ or whatnot on this particular weekend. So, in a sense, Dr. King Day has been commodified.”
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Imhotep understands that we live in a country that values the ability to buy and sell and make money. “But there are certain days and moments and events for communities,” she added, “particularly the African American community that are sacred and special and Juneteenth is one of those.”
Imhotep believes that national recognition of Juneteenth is an incredible milestone. “I just want to caution all of us to not water down the impact of what our ancestors survived and lived through,” she added, “and to not whitewash that milestone by having a Juneteenth mattress sale or a Juneteenth interest rate.”
Golden Juneteenth ice cream.
More communities throughout Iowa are making Juneteenth an annual event. For example, both Ottumwa and Washington will host their second annual events in 2022.
Secondly, include history
Some who planned to offer their first events in 2022 weren’t sure how to best honor the holiday. Living History Farms in Urbandale was one. They turned to Dwana Bradley.
For seven years, Bradley has hosted Juneteenth events under the nonprofit Iowa Juneteenth Observance, which exists under the umbrella nonprofit Des Moines Urban Experience. Des Moines Urban Experience focuses on African American culture, history and education. This year, Bradley has broadened her activities to help others with Juneteenth events, namely Living History Farms and West Des Moines, as well as promote other events.
“I’ve just been a part of just challenging them (Living History Farms),” Bradley said. “I really wanted them to be mindful of who they had helping them and why it was important for people who look like me to be helping them along this process and them to not try to do everything.” Bradley shared the historical context behind Juneteenth — why this is important and what it means.
Living History Farm’s “Emancipation Day: A Juneteenth Event” from 9 am to 4 pm on Saturday, June 11, will explore the Black experience in Iowa’s history, from early farmsteads through the 20th century fight for civil rights. According to a news release from Living History Farms, speakers include:
- Dr. Valerie Grim of Indiana University on the hope Iowa offered and the reality it presented in the years following emancipation.
- Judge Odell McGhee on the National Bar Association (established in Des Moines in 1925 when Black attorneys were barred from the American Bar Association). Judge McGhee, who was the fifth African American judge in Iowa, worked for 13 years to get the monument honoring Black founders of the National Bar Association in downtown Des Moines.
- Author David Connon on the Underground Railroad in Iowa.
- Retired Iowa Supreme Court Justice Michael Streit on Iowa’s landmark anti-slavery decision “In the Matter of Ralph.”
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Lastly, Juneteenth should not be limited to one month
Like Black History Month, Juneteenth should be observed all year and should apply lessons from the past to solve problems today.
Other Juneteenth events
June 8-20 — Iowa Juneteenth Observance lists more than 25 celebrations primarily in the Des Moines area, many of which are not on the flyer above. For more information: https://www.iowajuneteenth.org/events.html
June 11, 11:30 am-6 pm, Fort Dodge — A one-day event at MLK Recreation Center, 712 3rd St. NW, will offer history, Juneteenth art, games for youth and adults, entertainment, voting information, health screening, a presentation by activist Al Womble and more.
June 12-18, Washington — Juneteenth Freedom Week, sponsored by Washington For Justice, features a potluck, history presentations and puppet show, musical performances by ADE, spoken word by Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey, and more around the theme “Be Like Buxton.” For more information: https://www.facebook.com/washingtonforjustice
June 14, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Hiawatha — This Juneteenth & Emancipation program at the Hiawatha Library, 150 W. Wilman St., will be presented by the African American Museum of Iowa and will cover the history of Juneteenth and the celebration.
June 14, 15, 7pm-8:30pm, online — Office of Equity and Human Rights is hosting a two-night virtual event based on “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America,” which was adapted to a Netflix series, by Jessica B. Harris, recipient of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. Abena Sankofa Imhotep will facilitate both nights. For more information: https://www.icgov.org/news/office-equity-and-human-rights-host-two-night-virtual-event-honor-juneteenth
June 17, 5:30pm-9pm, Ottumwa — This 2nd annual event at Central Park will feature a welcome by Sandra Pope, who is Ottumwa’s first person of color City Council member, along with music, a performance by the Community Gospel Choir, vendors, food, Father of the Community Award and more .
June 17-19, Waterloo — The 27th Annual Juneteenth Celebration, sponsored by the Waterloo NAACP and Social Action Inc., features an African Attire Show at 8 pm June 17 at Absalom Lounge. June 18 & 19 will feature music, food, games, entertainment, church services, meet-and-greet with City Council members, basketball league, vendors, and more. For more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/962721621086657/ or call LaTanya Graves, 319-214-3434.
June 18, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Cedar Rapids —African American Museum of Iowa will host a day of music, live performances, dance and spoken word at NewBo City Market, 1100 3rd St. SE. Plus, there will be a mayoral proclamation with Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell, “What Is Juneteenth?” by MC Jemar Lee, and Black-Owned Business Market and tables featuring representatives from community and local organizations. For more information: https://blackiowa.org/events/juneteenth/
June 18, 3 p.m.-10 p.m., Ankeny — The Ankeny Community Network’s Juneteenth event, at The District at Prairie Trail, will feature live music, local performers, games for children, food trucks and more.
June 18, 7 p.m., iowapbs.org — Iowa PBS presents “Juneteenth: The Movement 2022,” a 90-minute program hosted by Madison Ray and Waterloo’s Joshalyn “Rocki” Johnson, with performances by Charlotte Blu, Jim Swim X ADE, Sharane Calister, Kevin Burt and others, plus exclusive interviews by journalist Ty Rushing. For more information: https://www.iowapbs.org/about/newsroom/7689/iowa-pbs-celebrates-juneteenth-movement-2022
June 19, 2pm-7:00pm, Mason City — Mason City Voices for Inclusion presents Mason City’s 3rd Annual Juneteenth celebration, featuring a cookout, music, games and more at East Park.
June 19-26, Des Moines — The Playhouse, 831 42nd St., presents a workshop performance by Beaufield Berry titled “Buffalo Women: A Black Cowgirl Musical Dramedy,” which is described as “Juneteenth. New lives. New freedoms. Buffalo Women is a tale of hidden figures living extraordinary lives on the frontier in 1865.” Tune into The Culture Buzz for a Buffalo Women interview. For more information: https://www.dmplayhouse.com/events/buffalo-women/
June 20, 6:30pm-8:30pm, Ely — KCRG News’ Phil Reed will talk about the meaning of Juneteenth to him and the children’s story “Juneteenth for Mazie” at Ely Public Library, 1595 Dows St. Food, crafting and an African American Museum of Iowa exhibit will follow. For more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/1348306295662724/