Kimberly Mustafa sat behind a collapsible table on a bright Sunday afternoon, an array of fabrics imported from Africa spread out in front of her. Mustafa, her hair bound up in a head wrap with signature earrings dangling from her lobes, could not help but bound up to greet most everyone who passed by her booth in Pratt Park with warm salutations and an embrace.
The community had come out for the second in two days of celebration for Juneteenth, the day that Union soldiers entered Galveston, Texas, with the news that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier.
Black people whose ancestors had been brutally stolen from their homes, abused and forced into slavery were now, ostensibly, free.
The scene over the weekend was one of remembrance and togetherness, for sharing in a common culture in a space — the Central District — that the community is fighting to maintain.
In a rapidly changing Seattle in which the forces of gentrification are pushing communities of color out of the areas of the city in which they were forced to live through racist redlining and forge a culture and relationships, events like Juneteenth celebrations bring together and lift up groups that have been historically marginalized.
It’s important to give people the space to come together, said Lawrence Pitre, a Juneteenth organizer and local artist.
“I would have to say these type of events, we have to do them more often,” Pitre said.
“When you’re doing community events, not only in the Central Area but in general, it brings people who would normally not come together, together,” Pitre said. “For some reason or another we all come together when something major happens. When you see people come together as a whole, it makes the community stronger.”
Portrait of an Artist: Lawrence Pitre documents the Central District
Ebony Exposure: Al Smith’s documentary photography of Black life in Seattle on display at MOHAI
Family ties: Artist Inye Wokoma follows his family’s history through the Central District at NAAM
Saturday was more structured, featuring live bands, improvisational theater, spoken word performances and dancers. Sunday programming was given to the religious community and featured musical performances and a moment of recognition for Father’s Day.
This Juneteenth in Seattle was different than those gone by. It was the first time in 35 years without DeCharlene Williams, a pillar in the Central District community, guiding the event. Williams died in May. Her family came in T-shirts honoring her legacy on the front and noting their relation to her on the back.
Folks at the event took a moment to memorialize Williams, lofting balloons in the air in her honor.
“We love you, Williams family,” said Pastor Tony Brooks. “We got your back. You won’t want for nothing.”
Juneteenth, formally celebrated on June 19, is not a holiday recognized by the federal government with a day off, despite its positive history as a day of liberation in a country that has not always lived up to its “freedom for all” ideals despite calls to make it one.
Juneteenth is, however, a recognized holiday in 45 states and the District of Columbia as of 2017, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation..
Plans are already in motion for the 2019 celebration. Organizers plan to proactively include families living at Yesler Terrace and add the Central Area Senior Center as one of the coordinating organizations.
The point is to bring people together, Pitre said.
“This is a story of pride, resilience and determination,” Pitre said. “Historically and spiritually, it’s important that we continue to serve and understand that together as a group, no matter what your ethnic background is, if we work together things can get done.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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