By Kepper Petzing | Contributing writer
On June 19, 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which freed people in Confederate territories from slavery, Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. He read out General Order Number 3, informing everyone that the Union had won the Civil War, and slavery was abolished in the United States. This date is now celebrated as Juneteenth.
Juneteenth in Portland
Oregon was the only state to enter the Union with a clause excluding Blacks in its constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment, which made exclusion illegal, was passed in 1868. Understandably, few Black people moved to Oregon until their labor was needed in the Portland shipyards during World War II.
Clara Peoples was one such person. She moved here from Muskogee, OK, and was surprised to learn that Juneteenth was not celebrated here. In 1945 she led her fellow workers in the Kaiser shipyards in the first Juneteenth celebration in Oregon.
Peoples continued to work for official recognition of Juneteenth but she and her family were displaced by the 1948 Vanport flood, and moved to 1406 NE Ainsworth St., a redlined restricted area. In 1972, she helped organize Portland’s first official Juneteenth celebration, enjoyed annually ever since. It earned Peoples the nickname, “Mother of Juneteenth.”
Peoples died in 2015, the annual parade was named the Clara Peoples Freedom Trail Parade and Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021.
Board member’s thoughts
“Growing up in Mississippi, Juneteenth was never heard of,” Isham “Ike” Harris, Concordia Neighborhood Association board member said. “AfroAmerican history is a very rich history. It is a oneness with American history, but it isn’t taught that way.
“I applaud the people who are making a special effort to get the 1619 Project taught,” Harris added, referring to a journalistic endeavor to revise American history to include Blacks that were enslaved in the Virginia colony as early as the year 1619. “There are voices [today] trying to shut that history down, which is really a bad thing because life is generational. You don’t want the next generation coming up behind you to be ignorant of their own history.”
“The fact that Juneteenth is a paid holiday; a federal holiday today – that is a good thing,” Harris said, “but as far as I’m concerned it is unfinished business… All those hundreds of years of slavery represent economic deprivation. People were working for free. Until America reparates Afro-Americans with dollars and cents, [there is no closure].
“We should not see ourselves as people who are satisfied with just having a holiday picnic,” Harris said. “I’m also calling out my own people. There should be more protests for reparation payments. Picnics and fairs are good, but it doesn’t pay for free labor. And when you keep that history away from the younger generation, they don’t know that their great foreparents built this country for free.”
Our newest holiday
Juneteenth has been called America’s second Independence Day. Every year the Juneteenth Oregon organization leads us in celebration, with a parade down Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., live music performances, vendors, educational booths, community resources, and a Miss Juneteenth pageant.
Join in this free festival at Lillis-Albina Park on June 17-18 and look for events around the city. Info: Facebook.com/juneteenthoregon15.
Kepper Petzing has lived in Concordia for 40 years, where, with their partner Lowen, they raised two children. They are nonbinary. They love community and are grateful for Concordia News.