The newly commemorated national holiday Juneteenth is considered the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, according to the Juneteenth website.
Martin Stennis Jr., the head of research for Ames Black Lives Matter (BLM), explained the history of Juneteenth started with the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect and union workers ensuring the freedom of slaves in Texas.
“While the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in the year 1863, freeing enslaved Black people in Confederate states, others remained in bondage in states further west under Confederate control,” Stennis said. “It wasn’t until Union General Gordon Granger, accompanied by about 2,000 Union troops, arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, delivering the news of General Order Number 3 explaining that all enslaved people in Texas, around 250,000, were free, inciting individual celebrations all over the area, marking Juneteenth.”
Stennis went on to say that initially, the Juneteenth celebrations were used to help African Americans learn about their voting rights. However, over time, Juneteenth became marked with festivities around the state that would eventually stretch throughout the country.
“Black Americans have multiple ways of celebrating Juneteenth, from big parades like those held in Houston to small barbecue gatherings held in our own backyards,” Stennis said. “Being from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I grew up with a block party held on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive/3rd Street. Celebrations typically have traditional red foods, such as red velvet cake, strawberry slab pie, strawberry soda and watermelon, which derives from Western African culture where the color red symbolizes 'spirituality, strength, life and death — all themes associated with endurance and the struggle toward emancipation.' This is not to mention the representation of the blood shed on the path toward freedom."
"Music is abundant, and dancing is encouraged but not required because you might want to relax after having some of the savory soul food. Juneteenth is a time for celebrating our freedom but, at the same time, understanding the history and tradition about it and how it coincides with the history of the country.”
Stennis said Ames BLM is celebrating Juneteenth in order to celebrate the history and the representation of Black Americans in the state of Iowa and in the Ames community. He explained that many celebrate July 4 as a day of independence. However, days such as Juneteenth mark the freedom and initial liberation of African Americans and Black Americans.
“As stated earlier, I grew up in Milwaukee, so I was used to celebrating Juneteenth while growing up,” Stennis said. “When I graduated high school and went off to college, I lived in Brookings, South Dakota, and now Ames, Iowa, and I’ve noticed not a lot of places really celebrate Juneteenth or had a true space for such a celebration, outside of bigger cities. We’d like to show that this historical event can be celebrated and recognized in any area.”
Ames BLM will be holding a Juneteenth event from 12 to 6 p.m. Saturday on Marigold Drive in Ames.
Jo Allen, a co-founder and social media director of Ames BLM, said the Juneteenth event will have many things going on for people to enjoy.
“We’ll have free food, but it’ll be first come, first served," they said. "Chicago Treats will arrive later and sell some of their own delicious goods as well. We will also have and recognize some of the local Black-owned businesses in or around Ames, some of which have great resources and products for the community. This is a perfect opportunity to not only learn about Black history but to also support local Black businesses as well.”
Lynette Kwaw-Mensah, the co-chair lead of Ames BLM, explained this Juneteenth event is important and a crucial opportunity for Ames residents to step outside of their bubble and acknowledge the history behind the holiday. She went on to say that knowledge is power, and when the time is taken to listen and fight for one another, it pushes Black folks toward their goal of true liberation.
Allen explained that Ames BLM is excited to be holding this event for the general public.
“We highly encourage anyone to come out and celebrate this day with us,” Allen said. “This is a beautiful time to learn about Black history and the importance of paying homage to our ancestors. We hope all individuals are able to take advantage of this moment.”
However, for those who can’t attend the Juneteenth event, they can continue to support Ames BLM in other ways. Kwaw-Mensah explained the most important thing people can do to support Ames BLM is being an active ally to the Black community in Ames and nationwide.
“One of the main ways people can continue to support Ames BLM is by making sure the support goes beyond performative allyship,” Kwaw-Mensah said. “It is imperative to continually speak up against all anti-Black sentiment in any circle that you find yourself in. It is imperative that white allies are actively working to dismantle these systems of white supremacy that continually benefit and protect them. Black life should not only matter when it is too late.”
“We must continue to protect Black lives consistently, aggressively and constantly. Folks can also support Ames BLM by following us on social media, staying up to date and showing up to our events. You can also support Ames BLM financially by donating to us on Venmo. The work is continual and goes beyond putting a hashtag in your bio.”
People can follow Ames BLM on their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and spread the information and resources they post and stay up to date on their events. People can sign up for their newsletter here. Direct donations can also go to their Venmo: @amesblm.
Allen expressed the importance of community and how the organizers of Ames BLM are excited to put this event on for the people of Ames.
“We are super excited to be preparing this event for the community,” Allen said. “It is very important to us to see our community thrive. Make sure to grab a friend and join the fun!”