Residents are invited to attend events on Sunday in both Moscow and Pullman to celebrate Juneteenth, a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.
The two events are organized by local community groups and staff members from the University of Idaho and Washington State University.
The Moscow celebration will take place from 1-4 p.m. at Friendship Square and will feature spoken word poets, food vendors, children’s activities and resource tables with information about Black businesses. Mario Pile, the director of the UI Black and African American Cultural Center, will be the event’s main speaker.
Pullman’s event will take place from 1-4 p.m. at the WSU Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center. It will feature keynote speaker Kiantha Duncan, president of the Spokane Chapter of NAACP. It will also have free food and drinks, live music, members of the Pullman High School Black Student Union, poetry and a reading of the children’s book, “Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free.”
The organizers hope these events will be the first in a yearly tradition of celebrating Juneteenth.
“This is kind of, for us, a kickoff event for future years to come,” said Allen Sutton, executive director of WSU’s Office of Outreach and Education.
Sutton partnered with the Community Congregational United Church of Christ and local community group Palouse Council on Racial Equity to organize the Pullman event. He said the organizers have already been talking to the UI about collaborating on a bigger celebration next year.
Deena Bayoumi, Palouse CORE member, said she hopes that Juneteenth celebrations become as normal as the Lentil Festival in Pullman.
“This is something that we want to grow, and sustainability into the future has always been a main goal,” Bayoumi said.
Pile, who partnered with the Moscow Human Rights Commission to organize Moscow’s event, encouraged people across the community, regardless of their ethnicity, to attend the event.
“Being there, even if it’s for a little bit, is paramount because it will send a significant message and a ripple effect throughout this area that Black lives matter, not just when it’s convenient, but all the time,” he said.
The events will take place a little more than a week after 31 members of a white supremacist group were arrested in Coeur d’Alene for suspicion of conspiring to riot in the city on the same day as a LGBTQ pride event.
Pile said the incident in Coeur d’Alene gives Sunday’s event more significance.
“This is an opportunity to not be silent,” he said. “To say, ‘We don’t stand for that, we don’t agree with that.’ ”
Bayoumi said the Juneteenth celebration is meant to be a safe place where everyone, including families, feel welcome.
“If they learn something in the process of having a good time, I would be happy with that,” she said.
Pile said Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black and African American communities since the 1860s. However, it has only recently been recognized federally and on the state level. President Joe Biden proclaimed it a national holiday last year.
While Pile is saddened by the efforts in the past to repress Juneteenth, he is happy that the holiday designation is a starting point for it to grow. Pile said he would like schools to incorporate Juneteenth education into their curriculum.
“Even though it’s symbolic, we’ve got to start somewhere,” he said. “We’ve got to take that joy and institute it into our fabric of our everyday life.”
Sutton said even though conversations around race can turn divisive, he said Juneteenth is something that is uniquely American and should be embraced.
“This is a good step in trying to make sure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” Sutton said.
Kuipers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.