The sun shone down on hundreds of community members who gathered in Pratt Park over the June 15 weekend to dance, sing and chow down on chicken sandwiches and collard greens in commemoration of Juneteenth, the anniversary of the liberation of Black Americans from the scourge of slavery.
The two-day event was a celebration of Black culture in Seattle. The Central Area Chamber of Commerce, which put on the Juneteenth event, packed the schedule of entertainers with artists and dancers.
They lifted their voices in song, and a group of young people from Melba Ayco’s Northwest Tap Connection brought down the park.
It’s important to bring young people together to learn their cultural heritage, Ayco — also known as Ms. Melba — said.
Her studio is a “hub of Blackness,” Ayco said.
2019’s event marked the 36th year that Seattle has held the event in Pratt Park, a public space named after Edwin Pratt, a local Civil Rights activist who was murdered in 1969 in his home in Shoreline by three men. His killers were never caught.
Though society has by some metrics moved on from the sanctioned, racialized violence of those days, the United States is still a uniquely dangerous place for Black Americans in both overt and insidious ways.
Black people continue to be shot and killed by police, who often continue on in their roles with few or no repercussions, and Black maternal mortality rates from pregnancy and childbirth complications are 2-to-3 times higher than that of their White counterparts.
Five years on, the water in Flint, Michigan is still so toxic that people cannot safely drink it. The criminal justice system so targets Black men and women that one in 10 Black children have at least one parent incarcerated, according to the Marshall Project.
Even the story of Juneteenth is one of suffering and delay — it took a full two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation for the last Black slaves to be freed from bondage.
Amid 400 years of pain inflicted on the community by White people and the systems they created, it is still critical to fight for the dream of Black liberation, said Lawrence Pitre, the artist and Central Area Chamber of Commerce figure who took on the role of organizing Juneteenth after DeCharlene Williams, a titan in the community, died in 2018.
“If we do not stand up for ourselves, the atrocities will continue,” Pitre said.
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
Read the full June 19 - 25 issue.
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