Coeur d’Alene’s first observance of African-American Independence Day will be held Friday at the city’s Human Rights Education Institute.
“It’s the first historic celebration of the ending of slavery,” said Rachel Dolezal, education director for the institute and faculty adviser for the North Idaho College Black Student Association, which is co-sponsoring the event.
Juneteenth marks “when people of African descent became African-Americans,” Dolezal said. “It celebrates freedom and equality.”
Juneteenth dates to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, with news the Civil War had ended and slaves were free. Although it was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation became official, the document had little impact on Texans because few Union troops were on hand to enforce it, Dolezal said.
The first Juneteenth celebration was held the following year, and it has spread nationwide, with events in most states. “It’s still spreading,” Dolezal said. “We hope this is an annual event.”
The North Idaho celebration will kick off about 4 p.m. with a DJ mixing music from black musicians, including jazz, blues, folk and gospel.
Food barbecued on site will be free for children under 12 and $5 a plate for adults. Actors on horseback will portray the buffalo soldiers – members of a black U.S. Army regiment formed in 1866.
Albert Wilkerson Jr., a Marine who fought in the Vietnam War and will portray a buffalo soldier during Friday’s festivities, said most people in this area are unaware of Juneteenth.
“They don’t teach it in school. They don’t teach it in history,” Wilkerson said, adding that it should be celebrated “because it is American history.”
Dolezal said the institute will give T-shirts to children under 12 to mark the occasion.
The shirts show Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama on the front and say “The history of Juneteenth” on the back.
“President Obama helps it a lot. That’s another drawing card,” Wilkerson said. Having a black man as president, he said, sends a message that “it is OK to celebrate your history.”