Bashir Hassan signs his name in June 2020 on a Black Lives Matter chalk mural in the parking lot at Edward Little High School in Auburn.  The event celebrated Juneteenth. Seated, from left, are Terri Wentzel, Ahyanna Carithers, Princess Monday and standing is Tulebari Monday. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

While both Maine and the federal government have now declared Juneteenth an official holiday, few official celebrations honoring the end of slavery appear to be planned for the area.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed into law a bill making Juneteenth a national holiday. Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed state legislation last week making the day a state holiday.

Last year, in the midst of nationwide protests against the murder of George Floyd, many organizations hosted Juneteenth vigils and celebrations, including at least two events in central and western Maine.

Juneteenth, which occurs on June 19, commemorates the day in 1865 when Union Gen. Gordon Granger ensured the last enslaved people in bondage were freed in Galveston, Texas. The event, which took place more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862, has recently gained broader popularity amid the movement for racial equity in the United States.

The Maine People’s Alliance, a group committed to creating and nurturing progressive grassroots organization across the state, supported 11 Juneteenth events in 2020, including a Chalk and Talk at Edward Little High School in Auburn. This year, however, they are not focusing on any events in central or western Maine.

Dr. Theri Pickens, an English professor and chairwoman of the Africana department at Bates College, said of last year’s celebrations, “If George Floyd was the only catalyst, then their original Juneteenth celebrations were for show, not for real,” she said.

Pickens believes the holiday is important to observe, even in predominantly white areas. She said the Lewiston-Auburn area is not just a local community, but a “white community.”

“Its celebration of Juneteenth has to include educating people about why this is celebrated,” she said. “This isn’t just an occasion for food, fun and fashion. It is one of the few holidays that actually celebrates history as bittersweet, and as part of its context.”

She added that when communities celebrate, “it has to move beyond cultural awareness to be a reckoning with the past.” Pickens believes Juneteenth is slower to gain traction because of its complex history.

“The story of Juneteenth is not easily collapsible into a story about overcoming or a neat palatable story about the end of slavery,” she said. “It marks part of the end of one of the bloodiest battles (in) U.S. history and, given where Juneteenth occurs, it also resonates with Indigenous communities.”

State Rep. Margaret Craven of Lewiston voted in favor of making Juneteenth a state holiday when the bill came before the Legislature. She said she is “anxious” to highlight and acknowledge the holiday.

“Especially at this time when we have an opportunity to do so, but also because this kind of information has always been repressed and not acknowledged,” she said. Craven hopes the new state holiday will be an opportunity to “celebrate people of color and people that were emancipated at that time in our country.”

Craven said she would be celebrating privately with her “friends of color.”

“We might get together for some kind of backyard party next week when I get out of the Legislature,” she said. “I don’t think there are any plans from the mayor or the community.”

Representatives of Auburn and Lewiston confirmed there were no official plans to commemorate the holiday. The bill Mills signed gives nonessential government workers the day off beginning in 2022.

Craven said she is proud of the progress made on issues of racial equity in Maine. She cited Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an important holiday already recognized.

In addition, Craven mentioned Bates College’s ties to racial equity and inclusion, and stated the “events, movies and music” the college promotes helped the greater community. She said she is also proud of a bill, signed into law by Mills on Wednesday, that mandates public schools to include African American history and the history of genocide in the curriculum.

Given the brutality of slavery, Pickens said she believes it is important to not only celebrate Juneteenth, but also to observe and understand its history.

“If we are to honor the spirit of Juneteenth, it will come with education about these complex agents and actors, emphasis on connections to Wabanaki tribes, clear reckoning with Maine’s links to slavery, and clarity about ongoing structural and institutional racism,” she said. “This cannot just be a day off or a parade and it has to have reverberations all year long.”

Despite the dearth of Juneteenth events locally this year, some events have been planned in the Portland area.

In South Portland the South Portland Human Rights Commission will celebrate at noon Saturday in Mill Creek Park. Margaret Brownlee, vice chairperson for the commission, said the event was included in the original pitch to create the group last June. It will include musicians, free books, speeches, and a celebration of World Refugee Day.

Other events, also in the Portland area, include a Facebook livestreamed artist showcase called Juneteenth! hosted by Coded by Young Women of Color and a performance by Maine Inside Out in Congress Square Park.

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