Juneteenth: a celebration of freedom and remembrance

Barb Arland-Fye
Charles Pearson of Pearson Consulting, LLC, talks about the role of African Americans in Iowa’s history during the Quad Cities Juneteenth Festival at the Lincoln Community Center in Davenport.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Iowa established Juneteenth as a state holiday in 2002, when Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack signed the legislation into law. This year, our nation celebrated Juneteenth for the first time as a national holiday, with legislation passed by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Juneteenth celebrates the news of freedom delivered June 19, 1865, to enslaved Black persons in Galveston, Texas. They learned the Civil War had ended that year and that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation 2-1/2 years earlier.

This year, at least two communities within the Diocese of Davenport commemorated Juneteenth, one with a prayerful focus — St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville — and the other with a festival focus — the 2021 Quad Cities Juneteenth Festival in Davenport.


“Juneteenth symbolizes the end of slavery, and symbolizes for many African-Americans, what the Fourth of July symbolizes for all Americans. For Americans that is freedom. While blacks celebrate the Fourth of July in honor of American Independence Day, history reminds us that blacks were still enslaved when the United States gained its independence” (Iowa Department of Human Rights).

The Lincoln Community Center in Davenport hosted this year’s Quad-Cities festival, which featured history, entertainment, businesses and nonprofits, a pageant and food. The Diocese of Davenport co-sponsored the event. Charles Pearson, of Pearson Consulting, LLC, shared African-American history in Iowa; Shawn Bolton sang “Lift Every Voice,” the Black National Anthem; vendors offered food, T-shirts, candles, soaps and services. KALA radio station of St. Ambrose University broadcast the festivities.

Juneteenth provides an opportunity for all people to learn about the history of the United States and the role that African Americans have played in that history, said Tracy Singleton, executive director of the Lincoln Community Center, and Ryan Saddler, CEO and board chair of the Friends of MLK, which organizes the annual Juneteenth Festival.

People’s commitment to learn and work together, regardless of skin color, will bring about fruitful change. “Let’s respect one another and learn our history collectively,” said Saddler, the associate vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

Ann Elsbecker
Music is played during a prayer service at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville June 16. The parish held the service to mark Juneteenth.

St. Thomas More Parish hosted a prayer vigil June 16. “This year’s message was the same, to commemorate Juneteenth as an end to slavery in the U.S. but also acknowledging that there is still a lot of work to do in our conversations, education, and legislation to end racism,” said Karen Grajczk-Haddad. “As much as Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday seems like progress, it’s really a band aid that doesn’t address the issues of systemic racism,” she said. “We need movement forward on including voting rights, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and more. In fact, I’d say we are moving backward specifically in the state of Iowa and many others by banning critical race theory, by not educating on the true injustices” that marginalized people have faced.

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