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Juneteenth: A Rededication to Freedom

“Words of Emancipation didn’t arrive until the middle of June so they called it Juneteenth. So that was it, the night of Juneteenth celebration, his mind went on. The celebration of a gaudy illusion.

―Ralph Ellison, “Juneteenth”

Two and half years. 400 years. 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Two and a half years. That’s how much time passed between January 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all enslaved people in the Confederacy, and June 19, 1865, when the Union Army’s Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced the end of both the Civil War and slavery. (The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, formally abolishing slavery in the United States, would not be fully ratified until December 6, 1865.)

On that June night, celebrations broke out. Historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner documents an heir recalling, “…my daddy told me that they whooped and hollered and bored holes in trees with augers and stopped it up with [gun]powder and light and that would be their blast for the celebration.” Juneteenth was celebrated the following year, and among many other emancipation holidays, has endured. Local traditions feature everything from readings, lectures, songs, voter registration efforts, cookouts, street fairs, rodeos, and more. It’s a day to reflect on the promises of freedom and the bloody costs of its continuous delay. It’s a day to celebrate the genius of Black joy and resilience. It’s a day to gather at the table and eat delicious food.

400 years. 2019 marked the 400th year since enslaved Africans arrived in what would become the United States. And in 2020, eight minutes and 46 seconds——the amount of time a police officer named Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, killing him—has set off an uprising against the present and past of racism in America. On the eve of the 155th celebration of Juneteenth, a different future again seems possible.

Juneteenth is not currently a federal holiday, but it is commemorated or observed in most states and the District of Columbia. In Washington State, the holiday was officially recognized in 2007, and a bill (HB 2312)  to make it a legal state holiday, proposed by Representative Melanie Morgan, is currently in front of the state legislature. The Seattle Art Museum is happy to announce that it has instituted Juneteenth as an official paid holiday for its employees, as a gesture within its broader commitment to creating racial equity and structural change within its walls. On this holiday, we encourage SAM staff to commemorate this inflection point in American history, as we live through another.

SUGGESTED EVENTS

BLKFREEDOM.org: Juneteenth digital commemoration
Presented by six Black museums and historical institutions, including Northwest African American Museum (NAAM)

Juneteenth Freedom March & Celebration
Led by King County Equity Now from DeCharlene’s Boutique to Jimi Hendrix Park

Juneteenth Week 2020
Presented by Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, Black Lives Matter – Seattle/King County, Tabor 100 and FW Black Collective.

Juneteenth: Ijeoma Oluo in conversation with Ahamefule Oluo
Live webcast hosted by King County Library System

Miss Juneteenth
Film directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples and starring Nicole Beharie

FURTHER RESOURCES

Juneteenth.com
Resource site founded by Cliff Robinson in 1997

Seattle Public Library Juneteenth Resources
A community-generated list of books and other media

King County Library System Reading List
A great list of reads for all ages

Nicole Taylor for the New York Times with reflections from Black chefs
Including James Beard award-winning chef Eduardo Jordan of Seattle

Chef Lazarus Lynch in the Washington Post
Shares his complicated feelings on the holiday

Muse/News: Taking action, what art does, and protest songs

The Seattle Art Museum believes that Black lives matter. We mourn the lives and say the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all victims of police brutality. We recognize that we cannot be silent, and we must act. You can read more of our recent responses here and here.

Last week, Stay Home with SAM visits the virtual Naramore Arts Show, talks powerful public art with Teresita Fernández, and reads a classic work of sci-fi and Afrofuturism with a partner institution, the Northwest African American Museum.

Local News

Lots of people are sharing resources; here’s The Stranger’s frequently updated list of resistance events, ways to donate, and other resources for combatting anti-Black racism locally

Bill Tsi’li’xw James, hereditary chief of the Lummi people and a master weaver, passed away on June 1. Barbara Brotherton, SAM Curator of Native American Art, was among those sharing remembrances.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis has been sharing a weekly editor’s letter; this week, she reflects on the intersection of art and politics and “showing up for Black art and Black lives.”

“Music and art can reach across cultural barriers when it seems like nothing else will. In a 2019 interview with Crosscut, Donald Byrd acknowledged the importance he places on making work ‘related to social consciousness and the politics of being a Black person.’ But, he emphasized, ‘It still has to be a piece of art. It has to do the thing that art does.’”

Inter/National News

“This is a revolution”: Artnet’s Noor Brara spoke with 18 artists who have been protesting about what they saw in the streets. Some of them, such as Kambui Olujimi, have already created stunning works that respond to the moment.

“The people have learned to write with fire.” The Art Newspaper has an essay written by artist and activist Dread Scott on the worldwide uprising in response to the murder of George Floyd.

The New York Times’ Wesley Morris does that devastating thing he does, where he responds to a moment with a heartbreaking cultural analysis; this one finds its way to a personal catharsis when he suddenly hears a 1985 cover by Patti LaBelle in a different way.

“This country manufactures only one product powerful enough to interrupt the greatest health and economic crisis it’s probably ever faced. We make racism, the American virus and the underlying condition of black woe. And the rage against it is strong enough to compel people to risk catching one disease in order to combat the other — in scores and scores of American cities, in cities around the world.”

And Finally

Dread Scott’s essay is titled “America God Damn,” which references a 1964 protest song Nina Simone wrote in less than an hour; one its first performances was at Carnegie Hall in front of a mostly white audience.

Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: The Beginning, Ella Maurer, 12th Grade, Franklin High School, Naramore Arts Show.

Muse/News: Supporting change, learning a city by foot, and farewells to Toni Morrison

SAM News

SAM director and CEO Kimerly Rorschach shared the museum’s position on proposed changes to Washington State’s overtime rules. These changes are long overdue, and SAM has been a leader in implementing adjustments. However, a slower ramp-up would be more sustainable for non-profits.

Local News

Marcus Harrison Green of the Seattle Times on Blood Lines, Time Lines, Red Lines, the Warren Pope solo show now on view at NAAM that explores the city’s history of racist housing policies.

“Pulling a reverse Henry David Thoreau”: Crosscut’s Brangien Davis on Seattle Walk Report, the comic that explores the magic of the city by foot. Its anonymous creator will name herself soon!

With “Currently Hanging,” The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig gets close to an artwork. Here, she visits a figurative gold sculpture by Casey Curran that echoes previous works by Anthony White and Tessa Hulls.

“The sculpture reminds me of The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa-meets-the-alien-from-Annihilation-meets-Rodin’s-Thinker. All things I love.”

Inter/National News

“The first Abstract Expressionist”: Who would you name? The Museum of Fine Arts Boston has a new exhibition that may answer that question.

DCist on the Phillips Collection’s new exhibition of 100 works by 75 artists on global displacement; director Klaus Ottmann calls it “the most ambitious exhibition the museum has ever undertaken.”

Author Toni Morrison died this week at the age of 88. This New York Times obituary celebrates her “luminous, incantatory prose resembling that of no other writer in English.”

“Ms. Morrison animated that reality in prose that rings with the cadences of black oral tradition. Her plots are dreamlike and nonlinear, spooling backward and forward in time as though characters bring the entire weight of history to bear on their every act.”

And Finally

Quiet As It’s Kept.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer, Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photo: Natali Wiseman.