Juneteenth: A Celebration Rooted in a Painful Past

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DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s a day officially recognized and signed into law. Iowa’s Juneteenth was  deemed a day of observance by former Governor Tom Vilsak in 2002 but its history goes back much further.

“It’s hard for people to recognize and acknowledge a painful history but just acknowledging the pain, first of all, can help us move to the next step of celebrating the milestone,” says community activist Abena Sankofa Imhotep.

The history of Juneteenth dates back to the 1860s when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863, abolishing slavery. However, that news didn’t reach all slaves until June 19th of 1865. That day became the day former slaves celebrated their freedom. Imhotep says that history is more prevalent now than ever; blacks are still working to break free of societal bondage.

“The ultimate reason why we want to celebrate is that black people were made free and not everyone knew it then. The difference now is the things that we are trying to get freedom from. It may be different but it is still a gradual step toward freedom,” she describes. She points to issues like mass incarceration, police brutality, education, and jobs.

Iowa Juneteenth event organizers say the day is meant to educate, reflect, and celebrate.

“Take the negative that you have and embrace the positive. Open your mind, open to learn a little more about who we are, what we do and why we matter here in the City of Des Moines,” says general chairperson of Iowa Juneteenth Dwana Bradley.

Next year will mark 30 years of celebrating in the state. Bradley says it’s time all Iowans embrace  African-American history year-round, “We want to really start doing things that help us pour into the community throughout the year. We don’t want to be just a celebration that happens in the month of June.”

The celebration will take place on Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. at Evelyn K. Davis Park. The event will have music, food, and activities for the kids. It is free and open to the public.


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