With the passage of state law 10 years ago, Nevada began officially observing June 19, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
Former Nevada House Member Harvey Munford, the 2011 bill’s main sponsor, recently recalled that he was “excited” to introduce the bill.
As a local educator for more than three decades, he had been particularly struck by the prospect that Juneteenth Day could serve as a long-term educational tool.
“We need to know the real history of America,” he said.
Juneteenth, which is now officially recognized in 49 states and the District of Columbia, commemorates June 19, 1865. It was when the remaining slaves in Galveston, Texas – a state defying the end of slavery ordered by the Emancipation Proclamation almost three years earlier – were notified of their freedom by Union soldiers.
For defenders like Munford, 80, Juneteenth goes beyond recognizing a historic moment. It is a movement that calls for year-round education on the broad and personal experiences of African Americans in the United States and on celebrating their freedom and achievements.
“You have to know where you have been to know where you are going,” said Dee Evans, a leading advocate for the state. “And Juneteenth kind of illustrates that.
Evans, the founder and CEO of Juneteenth Nevada, one of the many affiliates of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation across the country, first contacted Munford in about 2006 to officially recognize the day in Nevada.
Legislative advocacy is not over, however: there is continued pressure to make June a federal holiday and a Senate bill and House resolution introduced in February to that effect are co-sponsored by four members of the the federal delegation of Nevada.
“We need people to understand that Juneteenth is for everyone,” Evans said. “1776 liberated the country, Juneteenth will liberate the world.”
Stories hard to find
While reflection is a core tenet of the movement, it is also complicated on a deeply personal level: Southern families, at least in Evans and Munford’s experiences, may be reluctant to pass stories of conflict on to future generations.
“We didn’t talk about it,” said Evans, who had learned through research that his mother’s family came to St. Louis and Illinois in the 1890s after six members of the British were lynched. family in the Memphis area.
“My grandfather told me to study family history, but even he didn’t tell me the story,” she added. “He didn’t tell me he had changed his name.
Munford’s grandfather was born 10 years after Juneteenth and his mother was born in 1918 in Birmingham, Alabama. But Munford grew up in Ohio.
“They were so happy to come to the north and they didn’t want to ruin us thinking about what it was in the south,” he said.
Heal a wound
Evans suggested that the misconception was to not talk about anything if it’s bad, as if it didn’t happen.
“You can’t heal a wound unless you open it up and drain the poison,” she said. “You can’t know you can be successful unless you know it has been done, unless you have the confidence, unless you have the discipline, and respect for yourself and your family. We lost a lot.
But as much of the effort is to trace African American history, personal or not, it also corrects it often, “because a lot of the stories you hear aren’t true,” she said.
She thinks it’s important to set the record straight, from the minor but relevant details of how the Galveston slaves were freed, to the erasure of the black inventors who never received the appropriate credit for their work.
Steve Williams, president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, said he wanted more people to understand that Juneteenth is ultimately about self-reliance. He said that when the Galveston slaves were told they were free, they heard it from the Black Union troops.
“The liberty deliverance self-agency is the first thing you need to understand,” he said.
Linked to social justice
Williams also said that Juneteenth has always been part of the social justice movement and therefore “it is extremely critical for what is happening today”.
This period of agitation and action against racism and police murders of blacks has “brought us to the fore,” Evans said, noting that his phones were ringing completely after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.
“It gave us the opportunity to educate, discuss, bring it to light,” she said.
Evans arrived in Las Vegas in 2005 from Chicago, where she was introduced to the Juneteenth movement by the late Reverend Ronald V. Myers, the founder of the national organization. Now she said the mission was ingrained in her and she felt compelled to share it, especially for the sake of her grandchildren.
Complete list of events
The educational outreach will serve as the backdrop to a series of events held in June in southern Nevada through June 19, including flag raises, workshops, marches for unity, and artistic and musical entertainment.
The Rainbow Dreams Educational Foundation is also hosting the 20th Annual Las Vegas Juneteenth Festival at Kianga Isoke Palacio Park on June 19.
“There is enough Juneteenth for everyone,” Evans said.
Juneteenth Nevada, which is funded largely out of pocket and by small donors, also plans to recognize the pioneers of historic Westside and record the oral history of people in the area, she said.
“It’s not just our history, it’s the history of the city, it’s the history of the country,” she said. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You can’t take it all at once. You have to take a lot of small bites and we have people in 50 states biting history.
For more information on Juneteenth Nevada events, contact Dee Evans by phone at 888-509-6563, ext. 701, or by e-mail to [email protected]