As Renton looks to celebrate Juneteenth 2019, we’re asked to remember the history of 300 black men who escaped terrorism in post Civil War South and settled in King County mining camps, at great risk to themselves.
This was one of the messages on the city’s second-ever proclamation for Juneteenth 2019, the celebration of the emancipation of slaves in the U.S., falling on June 19, the day slavery was announced as abolished in Texas, 154 years ago.
The celebration of this history will be held Saturday, June 22 at Harambee Church in downtown Renton, with workshops from noon to 3 p.m. and a talent show of Renton youth from 4 to 7 p.m.
Rev. Linda Smith said the workshops this year will be more focused on educating folks about Juneteenth and its history, since after the last event many people were interested in talking and asking questions about it.
“From last year we saw people wanted to know and had a lot of questions, so that taught us to refocus how we did it this year,” Smith said.
The workshop includes a panel discussion and video on Civil War and Reconstruction. In the video, Henry Louis Gates Jr. discusses the period following Civil War and slavery and how newly afforded gains of former slaves were then disassembled.
Following that is the panel discussion, where global educator and counselor Maxine Mimms and sociology professor, author and founder of Cultural Reconnection project Marcia Tate Arunga, facilitated by Renton Rev. James Barnett, will discuss how the lessons of reconstruction can be applied today.
There will also be education on Renton’s African American history, using a virtual tour from Benita Horn and John Houston.
Later on is Renton’s Got Talent, which is a teen and youth talent show with a variety of performances. The hope is to get youth involved in the history of Juneteenth and this event through performances, Smith said. It will be emceed by Christopher Robinson, director of the CryOut! program in Renton.
The talent show also has cash prizes for the best performances: $100 for first, $50 for second and $25 for third. The audience will judge the competition.
There will also be some various African and African-American art displays at the event, Smith said.
Barnett thanked council for allowing them to celebrate Juneteenth in the city at the June 17 Renton council meeting.
Barnett talked about the inception of the U.S. and how it was a wonderful experiment with freedom.
“In America we talk about the home of the free, but it was also the home of the slaves,” Barnett said. “In between 1619 and 2019 there’s a dash, and that dash in particular was when Abraham Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation.”
This event is really about acknowledging and honoring the history of African Americans in the city of Renton, Smith said, and educating everyone.
After living in Renton for a long time, Smith said she is appreciative of how the city is embracing all people and showing that we’re all a powerful part of moving Renton forward.
Smith said the Juneteenth proclamation is part of how they are valuing every individual.
The theme of the Juneteenth event is that you can only move forward if you look back at your history, something that is reflected in the symbol used on the event poster, the image of Sankofa, which has been adopted in context of African-American and African diaspora.
“If you stay stuck in the past and don’t learn from it, you will never grow. We are empowered by our history. We are empowered by the struggle, by our ability to overcome,” Smith said. “Not just us as a people, but our whole nation benefits from learning about the history and embracing the best each of us has to offer.”
More information on this free event is available at rentonwa.gov.