One of the momentous days in American history was June 19, 1865, when word of the Emancipation Proclamation reached its final destination in Galveston, freeing the estimated 250,000 slaves still held in Texas more than two years after the proclamation was signed.
That day is celebrated throughout the U.S. as Juneteenth. On Friday, June 5, The Evergreen State College held its 2nd annual Juneteenth commemoration, shared over Zoom for students, staff, faculty and community members.
“Juneteenth has always been a celebration of liberation and justice,” says Carl Forbes, Evergreen’s associate director of admissions, who hosted the event. “It’s meant to be jubilant. But right now, it’s has taken a more somber tone.”
This year, Juneteenth commemorations have taken place as protests against police violence against Black and other people of color and continued racial inequality continue to grip the nation.
Each year, Evergreen’s Juneteenth event celebrates the accomplishments and leadership of a Black elder who has played an important role in the college’s story. This year’s honoree was Dr. Thomas Les Purce, former president of Evergreen.
“Les Purce has had a significant impact on the Evergreen culture and community,” says Forbes. Purce served as the college’s president from 2000—2015, as well as executive vice president from 1992—1995. He was also the first Black elected official of Idaho, as mayor of Pocatello. Post-Evergreen, Purce has recently been recognized for his conservation work in Puget Sound.
Last year’s honoree was Dr. Maxine Mimms, founder of Evergreen’s Tacoma program in the historically Black-owned Hilltop neighborhood in 1972. According to Evergreen Tacoma Dean Dr. Marcia Tate Arunga, Mimms saw in Evergreen’s model new educational opportunities for her community.
“The founders of Evergreen leaned into a new idea of learning that was free from the status quo,” says Arunga. “That is what Dr. Mimms saw when she went to Evergreen in 1971. She saw that this was how people who had been denied education can learn.”
Faculty emeritus and former executive director of Evergreen’s Tacoma program Dr. Joye Hardiman chronicled her personal journey as a Black woman in the U.S. Hardiman talked about the racist imagery and terror she grew up with in the media around the end of segregation.
The Juneteenth program also included a music video by 2020 graduate Georgina Holland-Posey, and an episode of “Music Never Sleeps,” a docu-series by 2013 graduate Nia Arunga about cultural reconnection between Black Americans and African artists.
Traditional, in-person Juneteenth commemorations bring people together to share food, music and athletic events. In this 2020 version, participants enjoyed music performed by Evergreen students and staff (including the anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing”) and an inventive catering option provided by local restaurants.
“Several businesses offered meals to students, which we paid for,” says Forbes. During the program, students were given the news that they could go to Bob’s Bar-B-Q Pit or Quickie Too in Tacoma or Beau Leg in Lacey to pick up a free meal after the program.
Though Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed a proclamation declaring Juneteenth a special observance in Washington state, the holiday is still largely unknown in many communities across the country. “It’s not something that is remembered in our history books,” said Arunga.
“Why is that? Why do we go to school for twelve-plus years, work jobs where we are highly-informed about the society in which we live, and we still don’t know about Juneteenth?”
Watch a recording of Evergreen’s Juneteenth program on Youtube.