This year, Juneteeth comes amid a global pandemic and an invigorated movement against police brutality and racism. While the day commemorates the emancipation of the last enslaved people in the Confederacy, specifically in Texas, the ancestors of those who were enslaved are still fighting for liberation as systematic oppression has not disappeared, but merely transformed and has become more insidious.
With this in mind, we tapped into the powerful and transformative capacity of the arts to share the voices of our resident artists and organizations.
We asked our Kranzberg Arts Foundation family, “What does Juneteenth mean to you this year?” Here are some responses we gathered …
“Juneteenth is the celebration of the liberation of Blackness.
“To me, it represents disembodying white supremacy in all forms so that Black people have the freedom to just be.
“I hope one day Black lives and bodies gain true, tangible freedom, reparations, and justice in this country and in this city. And I hope for it soon.”
-Katarra Parson, 2019-20 music artist in residence
“As a Black woman, I am ashamed to say that I never truly understood the importance of Juneteenth and what it means for my community. It wasn’t something that was taught in the schools I attended, and it really wasn’t mentioned amongst conversations where I grew up.
“My entire life I celebrated the fourth of July. I loved the fireworks and all of the festivities that take place during that time. In the midst of all the excitement and glamour of celebrating the fourth, I never really stopped to think about what I was truly celebrating.
“July Fourth, America’s independence day, America’s “freedom” day. How could I have been celebrating a national holiday of independence and freedom, when in reality it wasn’t meant for me.
“My people were not free, there was no independence for us. We are still not free. We are still living in a world of racism and social injustice. We are fighting to have the right to LIVE! I made a vow to myself and to my people, that I will no longer celebrate and participate in a holiday that was not meant for us.
“For me this year, Juneteenth means awakening!”
-Ashreale McDowell, Assistant Artistic and Executive Director, Consuming Kinetics Dance Company
“Juneteenth is a time to celebrate how far we as a society have come while assessing how far we still have to go. This important day still receives little attention, but I am hopeful that because of recent events that will change.
“Juneteenth, to me, means that while this marked the end of slavery in the United States, it represents the greatness that is the African-American legacy. It represents breaking chains and breaking barriers literally and figuratively…something that I hope continues with greater acceleration.”
-Ashley Tate, Artistic and Executive Director, Ashleyliane Dance Company
Saint Louis Story Stitchers commemorated Juneteenth with the release of a new podcast episode. In Episode VII, from the StitchCast Studio, St. Louis youth discuss “Compounding Issues” during the pandemic such as health disparities, mental health, economy and unemployment, education facing St. Louis’ economically-challenged minority neighborhoods. The episode was recorded on May 26, 2020. Listen here.
“Growing up in Texas, I remember when Juneteenth became a state holiday in 1980. That was a long time coming. Just like the 1865 event it celebrates — the announcement in Galveston made two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. I want to celebrate progress, but why does it always take so long to get here?”
-Philip Boehm, Artistic Director, Upstream Theater
“I salute Juneteenth. I honor my Black colleagues in the Arts. And I’m proud of those who have taken to the streets in the last several weeks, making this Friday, perhaps, the most significant Juneteenth ever.”
-Joe Hanrahan, Co-founder and Artistic Director, The Midnight Company