Honoring Juneteenth

In coming days King County will honor Juneteenth as an opportunity to shine a light on the power of our Black community’s health, strength, resiliency and beauty.

In historical terms, Juneteenth is significant since it represents the delayed justice for Black Americans in our region and country – a justice that we are still striving for in terms of health, education, the economy and more.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring 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 around 10,000 Union soldiers, including the combined New York 26th and 31st Regimes of the U.S. Colored Troops, arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to announce and enforce General Order #3, that the war was over and slavery had ended.

Imagine what it was like for the 250,000 plus formally enslaved Black people in Galveston to see U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) from the New York 26th and 31st Regimes, people who looked like them, walking in with authority to take their freedom by force.

What a powerful and transformative image it must have been for those Black people, young and old, to see their liberation taking place in that manner.

In 1866, over 800 Black people, both adults and children, marched from the Old Galveston Courthouse to Reedy Chapel AME Church in Galveston, Texas to celebrate Juneteenth for the first time.

King County Council passed an ordinance to legally make Juneteenth a county holiday on November 17, 2020.

June 19th, 1865 did not mark the end of our journey toward achieving freedom, equality, and justice for all Americans. The nearly five centuries of the chattel slavery system created a legacy of painful suffering, anti-blackness, and bigotry that still impacts present day generations of Black people today.

Continuing to uphold systems historically rooted in White supremacy that were never designed to serve all people only continues cycles of unjust harm and undue trauma.

Public Health – Seattle & King County seeks to observe Juneteenth 2023 in a thoughtful way, with great intention, that is not performative or self-serving.

Today, we acknowledge our collective history, amplify untold truths, educate, center Black voices and experiences, advance racial justice, and honor all Black Americans; past, present, and future.

We celebrate, honor, and are grateful for all Black Public Health employees and Black people living and working here in King County. Thank you for continuing to hold our local government, leaders, and systems to a higher standard. Because of you, we aim to grow and be better.

We encourage everyone across King County to learn more about the history of Juneteenth and find ways to help impact and create positive change individually and collectively.

For us, a leader in our department’s efforts to address systemic racism and health inequities in the local Black community is our Black Community Equity Team, led by our Community Health Services Division. For Juneteenth this year, Public Health will participate in large number of community events. Please join us at:

  • June 17th – Atlantic Street Center at Rainier Beach Community Center
  • June 17th – Renton School District Juneteenth at Campbell Hill Elementary
  • June 17th – Northwest African American Museum Youth Day Juneteenth event
  • June 19th – Northwest African American Museum Juneteenth Skate Party & Black Vendors Market

For a list of additional local celebrations, events, art exhibitions, festivals, educational opportunities and more, go to: https://www.4culture.org/celebrating-juneteenth-2023/.

As we celebrate this day of freedom, let’s find inspiration in the words of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass: “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Originally published: 6/16/23