Black Lives Matter signs waved over the Maritime Heritage Park amphitheater and booths lined the concrete walkway on Saturday, June 19 — the fourth annual Juneteenth celebration in Bellingham. The holiday celebrates freedom while marking the day in 1865 when the news of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 finally reached Galveston, Texas, one of the last places to hear the news that enslaved people had been freed.
This year’s celebration had added significance. Celebrated locally and regionally since 1866, June 19 became an official federal holiday last week, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
On Saturday, music boomed from speakers onstage, and a bystander helped collect stickers that blew off one of the tables, as exhibitors set up and attendees started to arrive. The event was hosted by the Bellingham Unity Committee, and Planned Parenthood, the Whatcom Health Department, Whatcom Coalition for Antiracist Education (CARE) and the League of Women Voters were some of the organizations who exhibited.
“A second ago we had three eagles flying over us. Did you see them?” commented Lummi elder Bill John, who was the first presenter and gave a blessing for the celebration.
Miz Floes and the band Jazzy Sol performed numerous songs, and a couple of trendsetters began dancing on the concrete path. Soon, more people joined them. Perry Joshua brought guitar and lead vocals, John Studamire played bass and Ronnie Bishop was on drums.
Poet Robert Lashley read some chosen works for the crowd.
Abdul Malik Ford spoke about the things he is still not free to do as a Black man, noting that “the devil works hard, but white supremacy in this country works nonstop,” he said.
The Harris twins, Ebony and Miles, sang while Miles played guitar. The crowd let out a spirited cheer whenever they hit an especially powerful note. They were followed by rap act The Rhetorician, consisting of a rapper and a DJ who both grooved along with the beats. Ska band Mr Cakes and the Fabulous Flames finished the evening off with a many-instrument production, and people appeared from seemingly nowhere to dance energetically along.