Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1867 as the end of slavery in America, but the 2020 version came with added significance and relevance, set as it was Friday to a backdrop of worldwide protests; calls for police reform; challenges to financial, governmental, and cultural institutions to promote equality and equity; and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz pushing to declare Juneteenth a state holiday.
The state’s most popular Juneteenth event, regularly held at Bethune Park in Minneapolis, was canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but celebrations took place elsewhere across the state and world. At the corner of “38th & George,” as one graffiti tag has it, folks came from far and wide to remember history and George Floyd, who was killed here at the hands of the Minneapolis police on May 25. MinnPost took in the Juneteenth celebration, which included speakers, deejays, and events sponsored by BLEXIT Minnesota and Black Visions Collective.
In photos and interviews:
Hope Cervantes and Serenity Craven. Cervantes: “Juneteenth has always been an important holiday for Black people. I’m from Texas originally, so I’ve been celebrating it since I was a kid. So it’s really amazing for a lot of people’s eyes to be open to this holiday that’s not new, you know; it’s our Independence Day. I thought it was important to come here because this is sacred ground, and this is where the catalyst started for change to happen and it’s going to continue to happen. It’s important to come here just to regenerate, actually; it gives me hope, it rejuvenates my soul and my spirit to be here with community, and with people, all with the same goal for justice and peace and equality.” Craven: “For me, it just gives me hope that there’s going to be change, so it’s important to be here to see what’s going on.”
Amanda Edwards: “I felt a closeness today. I live in Lakeville, but I just felt like today was the day that I needed to come down and feel connected to my heritage, but not just my African-American heritage, but to all. I love it how everyone is getting along — Black, white, Chinese, Hispanic. I like the way everybody is getting along and loving each other. Instead of just doing this for Juneteeth, we need to do this every day, 365 days a year.
“It’s important to memorialize George Floyd, and not only him but it’s some other ones that we lost. Enough is enough, and we don’t want to just sweep it under the rug. It’s been so much of it and I don’t know if you know, but I live in an all-white apartment complex, and they say they don’t know what racism feels like, but I do. I have three African-American sons and from every African-American boy that I know they have been mistreated by police officers. They threw my son across the windshield and slammed his face; one choked my son and why? All I want to know is why?
“So with George Floyd being fresh murdered the way he was, murdered like the death of a dog, that’s why, like they’re saying, Black lives do matter because very, very rarely do we see other cultures being murdered like this.”
Leon Lyons and mural, painted in the alley behind Cup Foods: “I’m here every day. I’ve lived here for over 50 years, so I’m here today to make sure to keep the positive energy going to get things going in a positive direction about something that was tragic but we’re going to turn it into something positive for this community. That’s why I’m here, because it’s time to turn that corner now. We know what this [shirt] means: Get up off my neck. We don’t want that to be forgotten. That has multiple meanings. We’re saying, ‘Get your knee off our neck for our neighborhood, economically, everything, socially. Give us a break. We can’t come up with your knee on our throat like this.”
Jean-Paul Lomanaga: “Today’s a special day for me to celebrate Juneteenth and to honor George Floyd, and also to express our feelings. Since [the first] Juneteenth, we still can’t breathe. We’re still fighting against our social injustice, police brutality, fighting for our basic constitutional rights that we’ve been denied over the years. So it’s a very important day for me to be here today.”
Andrea Jenkins, Minneapolis City Council vice president: “This is the site of a movement that has transformed the entire world. It’s a gorgeous day. Everybody’s feeling good and happy and seemingly healthy, so it’s great to be out celebrating Juneteenth. I’m 59 years old, and this is the first time I’ve seen white people using the language ‘Juneteenth.’ I don’t think, prior to this week, many white people knew what Juneteenth was, and a whole lot of black people either, for that matter. But now the world knows, and it’s incredible.”
Isiah Little: “This is where he died, so I just came to pay my respects. I’m a father, and he was a father as well, and he didn’t get to see this Father’s Day, and this is Father’s Day weekend, so I just came to show my respect. I never knew about Juneteenth until today. I saw some fliers, so I just came down.”
Tracy and Darrell Gradford. Tracy: “I haven’t had a chance to make it down here, so what better day than Juneteenth? I want to get out and celebrate Juneteenth by learning. It’s not about having a day off, it’s about learning more about my heritage, learning about our heritage, and just wanting to be part of the change.”
Darrell: “I’ve been down here a couple of times, but I did want to come down here today just because I want to make sure that this stays fresh, all the pain that America’s going through and here, we in Minneapolis, especially the Black community, is going through. You want to be able to just take it in in person and see, number one, just as a reminder of what happened, and also number two, all the people who are around us right now are a reminder of the healing process of what we’re going through together — not just Black people, but people of all races are going through this together.”
Tracy: “We watched [the James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro”] yesterday and kind of the scary thing is they were talking about the same things that are happening today. And here we are today experiencing the same thing. So as he said, it can’t just end today. It can’t just end once the election happens. In order for us to change, we’ve got to really take it to heart and make it a long-term change and reach out to one another. It’s about all of us. God created this world for all of us, and we’re all supposed to be a part of it.”
Darrell: “And also, we want to make sure that we take advantage of this time. Six months from now, we don’t know what the situation is going to be in. So while there is momentum for change right now, we have to take advantage. Not just politicians, not just looking for other people to do things, but individually, what can we do in order to help make change? Either actions that we can take, or things we can either start or stop doing … thinking about what can we do kind of short-term, medium-term, long-term. We want to be part of the solution, whatever that may be. We want to make sure that we educate ourselves so that we can help educate our children and help educate other people, as well.”
‘Sonic’: “I shouldn’t even have to say it. It should be self-explanatory by now, so you shouldn’t even have to ask. I’ve been advocating for this: If every race came together, all over the world, and became one … like, it’s not just the Blacks. It’s the Native Americans, Latin Americans, white Americans — what has been going on is hurting everyone. We’re all tired.”
Karlee Ann Callender: “I am biracial, so I identify myself as a person of color because I cling to both of my white and my Black identity. One of my parents is African, one of them is Caucasian and I own both parts of that. I would say that most people with my ethnicity would just say they’re Black; I choose to identify as a person of color. I’m here to celebrate and to lift people up. But also, I live further out of the suburbs. And I just really feel like being here in the community in the Cities where everything has taken place. Not only is it healing, but it also is educating me as I grew up south of the Cities, and there’s a lot of things that I was unaware of. So, it’s both humbling and honoring for me.”
Miranda Strong and Frosty: “I live here; I used to be a general manager at Funky Grits right there. I think my visible presence is important for today: Black skin, Black hair, Black joy — all of that is really important. People need to realize that a man was murdered right over there, right across the street from where I live, and I’m still happy, and I’m still spreading his name and his joy and his love, and I’m going to keep on doing that for as long as I live.”