Juneteenth at the library: History and ways to celebrate with family

The first Juneteenth in Portland was led by Clara Peoples in 1945. Peoples grew up celebrating Juneteenth with family and friends in Muskogee, Oklahoma. She spoke to her coworkers on a break at Kaiser Shipyards, saying, “Hear ye, hear ye. It’s Juneteenth. We have 15 minutes to celebrate.” 

Her advocacy continued through the years with the larger celebrations known as Juneteenth Oregon. In 1972, Peoples helped make Juneteenth a recognized holiday for the City of Portland. This year marks the 51st anniversary of the celebration of Juneteenth as an official holiday for Portland. Juneteenth later became a federal holiday in 2021. 

Juneteenth holds a place of particular significance for the North Portland Library. The grand opening of The Black Resources Collection, which holds books and materials of interest to the Black community, was on June 19, 1987. 

Years later, the first library Juneteenth celebration was organized by longtime North Portland Library manager Patricia Welch. 

Ms. Patricia shares, “When the late musician Thara Memory said he was looking for a service project for his community orchestra, that was the inspiration I needed. He played works by William Grant Still, the ‘Dean of African American’ composers. Members of Passin’ Art theater company read passages from well-known speeches dedicated to Black liberation. We had an ice cream social afterwards with custom made sundaes and red pop.”

Construction is now underway to modernize North Portland Library, including additional space for a Black Cultural Center.

Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth

  1. Read, share and discuss books by Black authors. 
  2. Attend a Juneteenth event or parade.
  3. Learn about Jim Crow laws and historical events such as the Emancipation Proclamation.
  4. Learn Oregon Black history: Black in Oregon 1840, Discover Black history through newspapers, Blacks in Oregon, and Oregon’s Enigmatic Black History.
  5. Learn about local Black art and artists: The Black Portlanders.
  6. Watch a documentary about the history of slavery in America, and use Kanopy to watch: Slavery by Another Name and Into the Fire.
  7. Join us at a Juneteenth library event!

History of Juneteenth

On January 1st, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all enslaved people in the United States. The decree wasn’t enforced in states that were in rebellion against the federal government.

Another two and a half years would go by before federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and enforced the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19th, 1865.

In the following years, the anniversary of this event was celebrated and honored in Galveston. Eventually it spread across the nation. Now, Juneteenth is celebrated annually through backyard parties, community events, parades, memorials and delicious meals. Juneteenth gatherings customarily feature red foods, symbolizing resilience and joy. 

In the Black community, Juneteenth is a time to gather with family and friends. It is a time to honor and remember the lives and experiences of the millions of Black people who were forcibly stolen from their homelands and enslaved worldwide. It is also a time to joyfully celebrate the triumphs and contributions of Black people to the nation and to the world.

This article was written with support from the Black Cultural Library Advocates (BCLA) team.