Some of the nation’s top African American museums and historical organizations, co-sponsored by local and national media partners, are coming together to celebrate the nation’s newest federal holiday: Juneteenth. Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of enslaved people in the United States after the Civil War. The organizations will come together for a virtual program called “We the People,” sponsored in part by Detroit Public TV, PBS Books and Amazon.
As one of the institutions involved in the “We the People” Juneteenth event, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History President and CEO Neil Barclay joins “American Black Journal” host Stephen Henderson to share details on the national collaboration and to talk about how the museum plans to celebrate the upcoming federal holiday locally.
Neil Barclay, President/CEO, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History: We, for the last several years, have been trying to get this point out to our colleagues in the museum, particularly African-American museum feel and we started out with just a few of us wanted to do something together to celebrate this holiday, our holiday. And so we gathered together and we put together a kind of video presentation where each of our cities contribute something about how Juneteenth, what is particularly resonant in our communities. Right. We’re now up to nine this year of other museums that are doing this and on I guess it is on Juneteenth at 1:00. This will air on our website and also on the DPTV’s website, the sort of hour-long presentation. This is a montage of five or so minutes from each of the cities.
Stephen Henderson, Host, America Black Journal: And so what does that mean for us here in Detroit?
Neil Barclay: For here in Detroit, we’ll see, you know, we’ll show that video and people will have it and they will have access to it at 1:00 on the nineteenth, as well as at 3:00 here in the museum and online. But our celebration is actually starting the day before. So we are doing an underground railroad treasure hunt actually in Greektown. That will happen on May 18th from 10 to 4 different sites of historical significance, particularly as it relates to freedom of theme of this particular holiday will be highlighted in this treasure hunt, where folks will be able to discover certain places in the city that are particularly important to African-Americans.
Neil Barclay; It’s sponsored in conjunction with the Michigan Underground Railroad Exploratory Collective, which is one of our affiliates. We, then on the 19th, we have a member of our community partners. That same day in the museum will be really focusing on things like partners including the Detroit chapter, for example, the League of Women Voters, or the craft insurance company, which ensures a lot of our homes and other properties here.
Neil Barclay: A museum store features unique and classical imagery, etc. And then we’re going to do a concert called Spirit Soar, which basically translates all of us to music.
Stephen Henderson: I kind of feel like we still have a lot of education to do of people African-American people and the rest of the population about what this commemorates and why it matters. I think there’s still a lot of confusion about that.
Neil Barclay: Sure. You know, it is the case. And I guess it’s just a story about the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, right? Eighteen sixty-five, to take control of the state of and insure that all enslaved people were freed. However, the was months after the Emancipation Proclamation had happened. So these soldiers are just really finding out about this months later.
Neil Barclay: And, you know, in our internet world or social media, wherever you can find out about everything instantaneously. That idea of people having been free for some time according to the law, but not actually knowing about it, something that may not seem, as what? Significant, important or a big deal to us living today. But back then it was huge that they would find out about this and really an occasion for celebration. Right? Got to them and got to their communities. Right?
Stephen Henderson: And it’s a reminder of, I think, not taking for granted the idea of freedom, even when it seems you’ve won or you’ve reached that point. There’s always more work to do.
Neil Barclay: There absolutely is. And I think our present moment is really highlighting that, isn’t it? You know, the things that are happening in our country now really demonstrate how much freedom is not it’s something that we must fight for, you know, to preserve every day, right? And otherwise, they are taken away, as we were seeing in the political process and climate that we find ourselves in.
Watch the “We the People” Juneteenth Commemorative live stream below:
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Watch American Black Journal on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on Detroit Public TV, WTVS-Channel 56.