Centralia marks Juneteenth with celebration at George Washington Park


While the federal government’s formal recognition of Juneteenth only began in 2021, Juneteenth’s significance in the civil rights movement dates back to the 1800s.

As he stood in George Washington Park Wednesday, event organizer Jim McCully, of Multiculturally Minded Lewis County, said he hoped Centralia’s Juneteenth celebration would “continue to educate people and not make it to where it’s a divisive tool. It’s an educational tool.”

The holiday formally recognizes when U.S. military members freed 250,000 enslaved people in Texas, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Today, we recognize that Juneteenth not only marks the end of America’s original sin of slavery, but also the beginning of the work at the heart and soul of our Nation: making the promise of America real for every American,” President Joe Biden said in a proclamation to recognize the day.

Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston previously signed a proclamation to recognize the holiday.

“Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and celebrates the successes gained through education and greater opportunity,” Smith Johnston said at the May 28 City Council meeting. “... Celebration of Juneteenth reminds each of us of the precious promises of freedom, equality and opportunity which are at the core of the American dream.”

Though its status as a federal holiday is still new, McCully said he thinks Juneteenth will continue to grow in popularity.

“It’s just like Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday. I remember when that was first made into a federal holiday, there was a lot of pushback,” McCully said. “But as years went by, and rolled by, people are accepting it.”

The event on Wednesday included a singing of the “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” commonly known as the Black National Anthem. The event also included a keynote address by Kawabi Amoah-Forson, a Tacoma resident who founded The Peace Bus movement.

“It’s an honor to be out here, especially on such a momentous event that is Juneteenth. We are celebrating freedom,” Amoah-Forson said.

“It is very important, almost as important as the most important thing of all time, peace.”

The location of the celebration holds significance.

George Washington Park is named for the founder of Centralia.

Washington was the son of an enslaved African American.

Despite racism and prejudice remaining prevalent throughout the U.S. following the end of slavery, Washington still made his way to the Pacific Northwest where he finally found a place he could purchase property.

Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed, according to history.com

The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday.

On June 17, 2021, it officially became a federal holiday.