While Maine and the federal government have now declared June a public holiday, few official celebrations honoring the end of slavery appear to be planned in the region.
President Joe Biden passed a bill making Juneteenth a national holiday on Thursday. Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a law last week to make the day a statutory holiday.
Last year, amid nationwide protests against the murder of George Floyd, many organizations held vigils and celebrations on June 17, including at least two events in central and western Maine.
Juneteenth, which takes place on June 19, commemorates the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger made sure the last enslaved slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas. The event, which took place more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, has recently gained popularity amid the racial equity movement in the United States.
The Maine People’s Alliance, a group committed to building and nurturing a progressive grassroots organization statewide, supported the events of June 11, 2020, including a Chalk and Talk at Edward Little High School in Auburn. This year, however, they are not focusing on any events in central or western Maine.
Dr Theri Pickens, professor of English and chair of the Africana department at Bates College, said she was disheartened by the lack of effort for the June 15 celebrations this year.
“If George Floyd was the only catalyst, then their original June 16 celebrations were for the show, not for real,” she said.
Pickens thinks the holidays are important to watch, even in predominantly white areas. She said the Lewiston-Auburn area is not just a local community, but a “white community”.
“Her celebration of Juneteenth must include educating people about why it is being celebrated,” she said. “It’s not just an occasion for food, fun and fashion. It’s one of the few holidays that actually celebrates history as bittersweet and as part of its context. “
She added that when communities celebrate, “you have to go beyond cultural awareness to take stock of the past.” Pickens believes Juneteenth is slower to gain ground due to its complex history.
“Juneteenth’s story is not easily reducible to a story about overcoming or a cheerful story about ending slavery,” she said. “It marks part of the end of one of the bloodiest battles (in) United States history and, given the location of Juneteenth, it resonates with Indigenous communities as well.”
State Representative Margaret Craven of Lewiston voted to make Juneteenth a public holiday when the bill went to the Legislature. She said she was “anxious” to point out and recognize the holidays.
“Especially now when we have the opportunity to do so, but also because this kind of information has always been suppressed and not recognized,” she said. Craven hopes the new national holiday will be an opportunity to “celebrate people of color and those emancipated at this time in our country.”
Craven said she will be celebrating privately with her “friends of color.”
“We could get together for some kind of backyard party next week when I step out of the legislature,” she said. “I don’t think there are any plans from the mayor or the community.
Representatives from Auburn and Lewiston have confirmed that there is no official plan to commemorate the holiday. The bill signed by Mills grants non-essential public servants a day off from 2022.
Craven said she was proud of the progress made on racial equity issues in Maine. She cited Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an important holiday already recognized.
In addition, Craven mentioned Bates College’s links to racial equity and inclusion, and said the “events, movies and music” promoted by the college have helped the community as a whole. She said she was also proud of a bill, enacted by Mills on Wednesday, that requires public schools to include African American history and the history of genocide in the curriculum.
Given the brutality of slavery, Pickens said she believes it is important not only to celebrate June 10, but also to observe and understand its history.
“If we are to honor the spirit of Juneteenth, it will come with an education on these complex agents and actors, a focus on ties to the Wabanaki tribes, a clear recognition of Maine’s ties to slavery, and clarity on the ongoing structural and institutional racism, ”she said. . “It can’t be just a day off or a parade and it has to have reverberations all year round.”
Despite the shortage of Juneteenth events locally this year, some events have been planned in the Portland area.
In South Portland, the South Portland Human Rights Commission will celebrate noon on Saturday at Mill Creek Park. Margaret Brownlee, vice-chair of the commission, said the event was included in the original pitch to create the group last June. It will include musicians, free books, speeches and a celebration of World Refugee Day.
Other events, also in the Portland area, include an artist showcase broadcast live on Facebook called June 10th! hosted by Coded by Young Women of Color and a performance by Maine Inside Out in Congress Square Park.
Photo: Fair food comes to Auburn