JUNETEENTH 2022: A Message to Community

By: Matias Valenzuela, Director, Office of Equity & Community Partnerships & Dejah Smith, Communications Specialist, Public Health – Seattle & King County

“While I remain doubtful that we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams, I believe we can be.”

–  Keisha N. Blane

Over 400 years ago, on August 20, 1619, a ship carrying 20-30 enslaved Africans arrived on the shores of Virginia. This date in our nation’s history is an ever-present, too often untold reminder of the vicious and painful chattel slavery system Black men, women, and children were forced to unjustly endure for 250 years. 

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863, declared enslaved Black people in Confederate-controlled areas were free. However, it wasn’t until “Juneteenth” – June 19, 1865, two and a half years later, that Major General Gordon Granger and approximately 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to announce the war was over and slavery had ended.

When they heard they were free, the 250,000 plus formally enslaved Black Americans in Galveston celebrated America’s second Independence Day, Juneteenth.

The legacy of Juneteenth shows the power of Black Americans’ perseverance, strength, resilience, and refusal to give up hope, even in the most difficult and painful times.

Juneteenth is also a sobering reminder of the over 400-year Black American struggle for true justice in this country.  June 19th, 1865 didn’t mark the end of our journey toward achieving freedom, equality, and justice for all Americans. It was only the beginning.  One hundred and fifty-seven years later, though some progress has been made, we still have a great distance to go.

Today, because of the extraordinary advocacy work of Black men, women, and young people across the country and here in King County, in 2022 we are proud to officially celebrate Juneteenth for the first time as a county, state, and federally-recognized holiday.

Public Health – Seattle & King County seeks to observe Juneteenth 2022 in a thoughtful way that acknowledges our collective history, amplifies untold truths, educates, centers Black voices, advances racial justice, and honors Black Americans; past, present, and future.

We are grateful for our Black employees and Black residents living, growing, and being an important part of King County. Thank you for holding our local government, leaders, and systems to a higher standard. It was your continued advocacy work and tireless efforts that led to racism being declared a Public Health Crisis in King County. Thank you for showing up and being the positive change needed in our communities. Because of you, we are better.

We encourage everyone in King County to learn more about the history of Juneteenth and to find ways you can help impact and create positive change. We must all commit today, and in the days ahead, to the ongoing, unfinished work needed to truly deliver on the promises of freedom and racial equity for everyone here in King County.

We know it is not just in our words, but in our actions that follow. None of us are free, until we are all free. We must keep fighting, until freedom.

Many of our Public Health – Seattle & King County programs are partnering in community for Juneteenth events happening this weekend around the county.

Check out this list of local celebrations, events, art exhibitions, festivals, educational opportunities:

Originally published, June 16, 2022.