Black Washingtonians rejoice as Juneteenth is declared a federal holiday

Jun 17, 2021, 10:32 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2021, 8:02 am

Juneteenth recently became a Washington state holiday and on June 16, it officially became a federal holiday. Representative Melanie Morgan introduced the bill in Washington. She explains why the 19th of June is so significant.

“In 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which was outlawing slavery,” Rep. Morgan said. “But the state of Texas did not follow along until 1965. So Black people in the state of Texas called this our independence day; when everybody, all Black African American slaves, were then free.”

The federal bill passed the House 415 to 14 after a unanimous vote in the Senate earlier this week. Rep. Morgan got a bit of pushback as well.

“I think two of the pushback statements that I had heard while I was running the bill was, one, the state of Washington didn’t practice slavery at the time,” Morgan said. “For that I say, it benefited off of the three trillion dollars made off the backs of my ancestors. We also weren’t a state on July 4th, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, but yet we celebrate that holiday proudly every year. Then, two, is that it costs too much. When is the right time to correct racial injustice? For me this is just a down payment of what is owed to Black African Americans.”

I asked her if the 14 federal lawmakers who voted against the holiday did so based on economics or if she thinks racism played a role.

“Of course there is racism attached to it,” she chuckled. “Who wouldn’t want to celebrate Juneteenth?”

Stephanie Johnson-Toliver is president of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State.

“The first recorded celebration of Juneteenth in Seattle was on June 19, 1890,” Johnson-Toliver said. “The Black residents of Seattle met on Pike Street. There was a big marching band, they marched through downtown Seattle to the train station, and then headed to Kent where they met up with all of these other Black folks and had a huge picnic, which they called a Glorification. There was an orchestra and free ice cream.”

Johnson-Toliver says there have been ebbs and flows in the celebrations over the years.

“We talked about it in my family, we didn’t really have huge celebrations here that I knew of in Seattle,” Johnson-Toliver said. “So we somehow lost the tradition along the way until DeCharlene Williams, who in the 60s decided that it was a shame that we weren’t celebrating Juneteenth.”

Donna Moodie is chef and owner of Seattle restaurant Marjorie. This Saturday she’ll be teaching a virtual Juneteenth cooking class through PCC, where she’ll share her famous jerk chicken recipe and a bright red hibiscus drink in honor of the holiday’s tradition of eating and drinking red things.

“I think that the significance of the color commemorates the loss of life, the blood,” Moodie said. “But also keeping an eye on the positive and looking forward.”

“The Kool-aid always comes out!” Johnson-Toliver said. “You know, the red Kool-Aid.”

For many Americans, last year was the first time they’d heard of Juneteenth, and not all Black Americans grew up celebrating it.

“I did not grow up celebrating it,” Moodie said. “I was always aware of it and thought it was a good day to honor the history of Blackness. But it wasn’t something in my household that we grew up celebrating.”

The same is true for Representative Morgan.

“No, I did not know about Juneteenth when I was growing up,” Morgan said. “This was never taught. We have to remember that white Americans wrote the history books and they chose what they were going to put in those history books. So this was a good educational journey for me as well. Of course I’m relating to this, this is my history, these are my ancestors that stayed alive, resilient, made it through so I could be a city legislator here in the state of Washington.”

Juneteenth Events this weekend:

Juneteenth Freedom March
Sat, Jun 19, 3 – 9 PM
Jimi Hendrix Park in Seattle
More information

Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom
Sat, Jun 19
Northwest African American Museum in Seattle
More information

Freedom March & People’s Assembly
Sat, Jun 19, 1 PM – Sun, Jun 20, 7 PM
E Madison St & 23rd Ave E in Seattle
More information

No Healing, No Peace. A Walking Meditation for Black Liberation
Sat, Jun 19, 10 AM – 1 PM
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park in Seattle
More information

Juneteenth Festival of Freedom 2021
Jun 11, 1 PM – Jun 20, 2 PM
Everett, WA
More information

Beloved Artists in Painting Deconstructed
Jun 18 – Jul 11
Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma
More information

Taste of Juneteenth
Sat, Jun 19, 11 AM – 2 PM
Morrill Meadows Park in Kent
More information

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal.” Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!

  • listen to rachel belleTune in to KIRO Radio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
Who is Rachel Belle?

Your Last Meal

Rachel Belle

supply chain...
Rachel Belle

Start your holiday shopping now or risk supply chain issues

Now is the time to start holiday gift shopping because if you don't buy soon, supply chain issues may make it tough to get what you want later.
12 days ago
Rachel Belle

How does Dick’s Drive-In pay workers $19 an hour with a menu completely under $5?

Dick's Drive-In recently raised its base pay, as did Taco Time, which is now offering employees $20 an hour at select locations. How do they keep prices low and pay high?
13 days ago
Rachel Belle

Don’t like how you look on Zoom? Many young Americans are now getting Botox

More people are turning to Botox to get rid of lines and wrinkles, but is it safe? How does one age naturally in a youth obsessed country? Experts weigh in.
19 days ago
certified wildlife habitat...
Rachel Belle

Turn your backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat

The National Wildlife Federation will help you make your yard a habitable home for bees, birds, bugs and critters. And they'll give you an official sign!
1 month ago
Emily Cherkin and Ben Gitenstein, pictured months after 9/11. (Photo courtesy of Emily Cherkin)...
Rachel Belle

‘You either got married or broke up’: 20 years later, a Seattle couple on falling in love in NYC in the wake of 9/11

On Sept. 11, 2001, Seattle's Emily Cherkin and Ben Gitenstein were 22 years old and separately taking the subway into Manhattan when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers. This is their story.
1 month ago
dirty work...
Rachel Belle

New book ‘Dirty Work’ reveals psychological toll of working unsavory jobs nobody wants

A new book by Eyal Press called "Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America" takes a deeper look at jobs no one wants to do.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles


How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Black Washingtonians rejoice as Juneteenth is declared a federal holiday