Oregon City celebrates historic Juneteenth
Oregon City's second-annual Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 19, was its first with city and national recognition for the holiday.
Further, this year's Juneteenth celebration was the first time the event was marked in Oregon City with handshakes and hugs, compared with last year's smaller, socially distanced and masked event. Although this year's party at Library Park wasn't officially advertised, hundreds of people attended last weekend, including County Commissioner Sonya Fischer, State Rep. Mark Meek, City Commissioners Denyse McGriff and Adam Marl, and OC School Board members Anna Farmer and Martha Spiers.
Marl, a newly appointed city commissioner, said this year's Juneteenth was the city's first with the police department's recently hired mental health specialist and without a mayor who actively opposed the Black Lives Matter movement. In mentioning the milestones, Marl was among many speakers at the event who noted that the city can't rest on its laurels of social progress achieved since last year's celebration of Juneteenth in Oregon City.
"We can't fall into the trap of thinking that our work here is done," Marl said, noting his increasing fear over the past year of being targeted for his race like other Asian Americans. "An increase in hate against one group inevitably affects us all."
Troy Tate, a volunteer with Oregon Black Pioneers, supported the idea of Juneteenth as a national holiday, extending far beyond its original significance in Texas where former slaves celebrated their freedom on June 19, 1865. As a native Oregonian in his 30s, Tate was among the many youth educated in public schools who played the Oregon Trail video game and learned that Black people were not free when they arrived here. Oregon was technically a free state, but exclusion laws prevented Blacks from holding property and authorized corporal beatings until they left. Tate told a story about one Black family who had to assert their rights by taking a legal case all the way to the state territory's supreme court.
"Slavery is not just a Southern issue," Tate said. "Exclusion and repression remain here in Oregon."
Portland poet and pastor Emmett Wheatfall said Juneteenth is an opportunity to "celebrate the emancipation and the inclusion of the Negro." The holiday also serves as a reminder, Wheatfall said, that our nation says to the whole world that we're freedom land, but that ideal represented by the Statue of Liberty hasn't been fully put into practice during the country's legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws and continued oppression of minority groups.
"June 19, 1865, represents yesterday, and yesterday today," Wheatfall said. "Today is June 19, 1865, again, and Oregon City celebrates freedom land."
Wheatfall read a short poem called the "Unremarkable Negro" with several famous phrases from African American writers and civil-rights activists, including:
"I, too, am America." - Langston Hughes.
"I am not your negro." - James Baldwin.
"Still, I rise." - Maya Angelou.
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