If you go
What: Vancouver’s Juneteenth celebration, the oldest known celebration of black freedom and the end of slavery, begun in Galveston, Texas. Vancouver’s event will feature speeches and poetry readings, music and food vendors.
When: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Marine Park, Southeast Columbia Way and Marine Park Way (near the Water Resources Education Center).
Information: Marva Edwards, 360-909-7688, or http://www.naacpvanc.org.
The local branch of the nation's oldest civil rights organization is getting reorganized and raising its profile in Vancouver, says Marva Edwards, president of the local NAACP.
The effort begins Saturday with a public celebration of Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day. People will gather in the afternoon at Marine Park for historical talks, poetry readings, music and more. You're welcome to bring a picnic, but food vendors will on hand, too.
Juneteenth is the oldest annual celebration of black freedom and the end of slavery in America. "It's when news reached the slaves in Texas that the war was over and they were really free," Edwards said. "It was their freedom day, so it's our freedom day, too."
President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in the Confederacy in 1862 as a wartime contingency through the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permanently banned slavery throughout the nation in early 1865 (as recently portrayed in the movie "Lincoln") — but Texas still refused to comply, even after the war officially ended in April.
On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, and on June 19, Granger stood on a balcony and read aloud a declaration: "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free."
Freed slaves rejoiced in the streets that day, and the following year saw the beginning of Juneteenth celebrations in Texas and elsewhere. There is no federal Juneteenth holiday, but most states have adopted Juneteenth as a state holiday. Washington made it a state observance in 2007.
Here in Vancouver, though, Juneteenth has never been observed before now, Edwards said. The local branch of the NAACP is pulling itself back together after losing two important leaders recently: Val Joshua, who was president for 29 years and remained deeply involved until her death late last year; and Earl Ford, who succeeded Joshua and was president for 10 years, but moved to California in 2011. With those two losses, Edwards said, the group has been relatively inactive -- but at a meeting earlier this year, it chose new officers and stoked up some new interest in various projects.
One is this Juneteenth observance. Another is a Black History Month event slated for next February. And another is the NAACP's annual summer cultural-immersion program for youth, which used to be called "African-American Rites of Passage" but now has been broadened, Edwards said, to be more inclusive as "Ethnic American Rites of Passage." The program gathers groups of students of any and all ethnic backgrounds, Edwards said, for four weeks of summer learning about history and culture, fields trips and camping, current events and community service.
If you are interested in learning more about Vancouver's NAACP branch and its offerings, call Edwards at 360-909-7688 or visit http://www.naacpvanc.org/ -- or the organization's Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/VancouverNAACP.