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Event commemorates the day slavery ended in the United States



PAMPLIN MEDIA PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Ruth Gourdon stands in front of her face painting booth in Portland's Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18. Gourdon praised the event for bringing the community together and raising further awareness of Juneteenth, which commemorates the day slavery ended in the United States.

Mayor Charlie Hales honored a major milestone in U.S. history when he proclaimed June 18 as Juneteenth in Portland.

On Saturday, June 18, Hales spoke at an annual celebration for the day when the last of the slaves in the U.S. were informed of their freedom.

“It’s important to have our whole community remember Juneteenth,” he said.

The celebration honors the date when, two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 with the news that the enslaved were now free.

“Juneteenth was a big part of establishing African American independence, and independence for all,” said Jenelle Jack, a member of the Juneteenth Oregon Committee, the group that organizes the event each year.

Portland’s Juneteenth celebration was started by Jack’s grandmother, Clara Peoples, in 1945. Peoples had recently moved from Muskogee, Okla. and was surprised to learn her coworkers at the Kaiser Shipyard did not celebrate the occasion. PAMPLIN MEDIA PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Members of King Elementary School's drill team are all smiles after participating in the Clara Peoples Freedom Trail Parade during the Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18.

Peoples started a small celebration for her coworkers during their 15 minute lunch break and later helped initiate Portland’s citywide celebration in 1972. In 2011, Peoples was named the national “Mother of Juneteenth” by the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.

Peoples died in October 2015, but the members of the Juneteenth Oregon committee made sure that her legacy continued this year.

The annual celebration features a parade and festival, with many opportunities for participants to learn more about Juneteenth.

Jack said the committee’s goals for this year’s Juneteenth celebration were to bring all types of people together.

“We want to bridge the gap and bring the whole community together,” she said. “It’s not a celebration for just one group. We want to bring everyone together in a positive way.”

The celebration began with the Clara Peoples Freedom Trail Parade winding through the streets of Northeast Portland, with Hales as the grand marshall and many community groups participating in the fun. PAMPLIN MEDIA PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Members of the Juneteenth Oregon committee march in the Clara Peoples Freedom Trail Parade on Saturday, June 18.

Grace Mckenzie, coach of the King Elementary School drill team, thought the parade was a valuable learning experience for her students. Students in kindergarten through seventh grade participated in the parade.

“(Students) need to learn about Juneteenth, and experience it,” Mckenzie said.

Ahmaylh Brightmon, a fourth grader at King Elementary, enjoyed learning the meaning behind the Juneteenth festivities.

“I liked learning about when all the slaves were freed,” she said.

After the parade, the celebration continued during a festival at Legacy Emanuel Field with community vendors, live music, activities for children and more opportunities to learn about Juneteenth.

Speakers read the Emancipation Proclamation and told crowds about Juneteenth, as well as many of the contributions of African Americans throughout history.

Doris Rush, Peoples’ niece and a member of the Juneteenth Oregon committee, hoped participants gained a better understanding of the event.

“It’s a crucial part of American history,” she said. “We’re trying to educate the community, and the world.”

The committee had a display featuring many of the contributions African Americans have made throughout history. Rush’s favorite person on the history display was Oscar Micheaux.

“He was the only African American screenwriter during the silent film era,” she said. “He made so many great, high quality movies.” PAMPLIN MEDIA PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Doris Rush stands next to a section of the Juneteenth Oregon committee's display featuring many of the contributions African Americans have made throughout history. Rush particularly admires the work of Oscar Micheaux, one of the earliest African American screenwriters.

Ruth Gourdon, who operated a face painting booth at the festival, was glad to see participants learn more about Juneteenth.

“I moved from the East Coast three years ago, and the (awareness) isn’t quite as strong here, but it’s definitely growing,” she said.

Gwen Johnson, another vendor at the festival, was also happy to see awareness spread.

“Everyone should be exposed to different cultures,” she said. “Sometimes history isn’t always reported as it should be, and not a lot of people know about Juneteenth.”

Johnson thought this was a particularly valuable time to celebrate Juneteenth.

“We really need it this year, since this is an election year and there’s a lot of drama and negativity,” she said. “This is a good, positive event.”

Hales praised the festivities for allowing people of all ages to spread awareness of an important piece of history.

“It was great to see young people in the parade calling out ‘Happy Juneteenth,” he said. “We still have a ways to go, but the celebration has grown in recent years.”

Jack was happy the committee was able to continue her grandmother’s legacy.

“The celebration meant a lot to her,” Jack said. “I’ll always remember her smiling and waving when she rode in the parade every year.”

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