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Make history part of Iowa’s June 19 community celebrations

June 19, 1865 is the day enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas learned they were free – 2½ years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth, observed on June 19, not only commemorates freedom, but honors and celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans.

Although former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack signed legislation making June 16 a holiday in 2002, some communities in Iowa have only recently begun celebrating it. After the murder of George Floyd, some communities turned their gaze to Black Americans and history, asking, “What can we do differently? One of those things was honoring Juneteenth. When President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021, more recognized him.

What’s the right way to celebrate Juneteenth?

First, don’t commodify it.

For Abena Sankofa Imhotep, founder of the Sankofa Literary & Empowerment Group and host of several June 19 events, “commodifying” in this context means positioning a day or event that is sacred to black people as something that can be bought or sold. “For example, Dr. King Day. Mrs. Coretta Scott King fought for 25 years or more to have this day recognized as her birthday, recognized as a federal holiday,” Imhotep said. “That’s great. But now what we’re seeing are mattress sales on Dr. King’s Day and ‘Get a good interest rate if you buy a car’ or whatever this particular weekend. So, in a sense, Dr. King Day has been commodified.

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Imhotep understands that we live in a country that values ​​the ability to buy, sell and earn money. “But there are certain days, times and events for communities,” she added, “especially the African-American community that are sacred and special and Juneteenth is one of them.”

Imhotep believes the national recognition of Juneteenth is an incredible milestone. “I just want to warn all of us not to dull the impact of what our ancestors survived and went through,” she added, “and not whitewash this milestone by having a Juneteenth mattress sale or a rate of interest Juneteenth.”

Or June 19 ice cream.

More communities across Iowa are making Juneteenth an annual event. For example, Ottumwa and Washington will host their second annual events in 2022.

Second, include the story

Some planning to offer their first events in 2022 were unsure how to best honor the holidays. Living History Farms in Urbandale was one. They turned to Dwana Bradley.

For seven years, Bradley hosted Juneteenth events as part of the non-profit organization Iowa June 19 Observance, which exists under the umbrella of the nonprofit Des Moines Urban Experience. Des Moines Urban Experience focuses on African American culture, history and education. This year, Bradley has expanded to help others with the June 19 events, namely Living History Farms and West Des Moines, as well as to promote other events.

2022 Iowa Juneteenth Calendar of Iowa Juneteenth Observance Events

“I just participated in their (Living History Farms) challenge,” Bradley said. “I really wanted them to be aware of who they helped them with and why it was important for people like me to help them through this process and not try to do it all.” Bradley shared the historical context behind Juneteenth – why it matters and what it means.

Living History Farm “Emancipation Day: A June 19 Event” from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 11, will explore the black experience in Iowa history, from the early farms to the civil rights struggle of the 20th century. According to a press release from Living History Farms, speakers include:

  • Dr. Valerie Grim of Indiana University on the hope offered by Iowa and the reality it presented in the years following emancipation.
  • Judge Odell McGhee of the National Bar Association (established in Des Moines in 1925 when black lawyers were barred from the American Bar Association). Judge McGhee, who was Iowa’s fifth African-American judge, worked for 13 years to secure the monument honoring the black founders of the National Bar Association in downtown Des Moines.
  • Author David Connon on the Underground Railroad in Iowa.
  • Retired Iowa Supreme Court Justice Michael Streit on Iowa’s landmark anti-slavery ruling “In the Matter of Ralph.”

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Artist Kerry James Marshall and his sculpture in downtown Des Moines,"A monumental journey."

Finally, Juneteenth should not be limited to a month

Like Black History Month, Juneteenth should be observed year-round and should apply the lessons of the past to address the issues of today.

Other events of June 19

June 8-20 — Iowa Juneteenth Observance lists over 25 observances primarily in the Des Moines area, many of which are not listed in the flyer above. For more information:

June 11, 11:30am-6pm, Fort Dodge – A one-day event at the MLK Recreation Center, 712 3rd St. NW, will feature Juneteenth history, art, youth and adult games, entertainment, voting information, medical screening, a presentation by activist Al Womble and more.

June 12-18, Washington – Juneteenth Freedom Week, sponsored by Washington For Justice, features a potluck, history presentations and a puppet show, musical performances by ADE, spoken words by Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey, and more still around the theme “Be Like Buxton”. For more information:

June 14, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Hiawatha – This Juneteenth & Emancipation program at the Hiawatha Library, 150 W. Wilman St., will be presented by the African American Museum of Iowa and will cover the history of Juneteenth and the celebration.

June 14, 15, 7-8:30 p.m., online – The Office of Equity and Human Rights is hosting a two-night virtual event based on “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America,” which was adapted into a Netflix series, by Jessica B Harris, recipient of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. Abena Sankofa Imhotep will host both evenings. For more information:

June 17, 5:30-9 p.m., Ottumwa – This 2nd annual event in Central Park will include a welcome by Sandra Pope, who is the first person of color on the City Council of Ottumwa, as well as music, a performance by the Community Gospel Choir, vendors, food, the price of the father of the community and more .

June 17-19, Waterloo – The 27th Annual June 17 Celebration, sponsored by the NAACP of Waterloo and Social Action Inc., features an African clothing show at 8 p.m. June 17 at the Absalom Lounge. June 18 and 19 will include music, food, games, entertainment, church services, meetings with city council members, the basketball league, vendors, and more. For more information: or call LaTanya Graves, 319-214-3434.

June 18, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Cedar Rapids —The African American Museum of Iowa will host a day of music, performances, dance and spoken word at NewBo City Market, 1100 3rd St. SE. Additionally, there will be a mayoral proclamation featuring Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell, “What Is Juneteenth?” by MC Jemar Lee, and Black-Owned Business Market and tables with representatives from community and local organizations. For more information:

June 18, 3-10 p.m., Ankeny – The Ankeny Community Network’s Juneteenth event, at the District at Prairie Trail, will feature live music, local artists, children’s games, food trucks and more.

June 18, 7 p.m., – Iowa PBS presents “Juneteenth: The Movement 2022”, a 90-minute program hosted by Madison Ray and Joshalyn “Rocki” Johnson of Waterloo, with performances by Charlotte Blu, Jim Swim X ADE, Sharane Calister, Kevin Burt and others, as well as exclusive interviews with journalist Ty Rushing. For more information:

June 19, 2:00-7:00 p.m., Mason City – Mason City Voices for Inclusion presents Mason City’s 3rd Annual June 19 Celebration, featuring BBQ, music, games and more in East Park.

June 19-26, Des Moines – The Playhouse, 831 42nd St., features a workshop performance by Beaufield Berry titled “Buffalo Women: A Black Cowgirl Musical Dramedy”, which is described as “Juneteenth”. New lives. New freedoms. Buffalo Women is a story of hidden characters living extraordinary lives on the frontier in 1865.” Tune in to The Culture Buzz for a Interview with Buffalo Women. For more information:

June 20, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Ely – Phil Reed of KCRG News will talk about the meaning of Juneteenth to him and the children’s story ‘Juneteenth for Mazie’ at Ely Public Library, 1595 Dows St. Food, crafts and an exhibition from African American Museum of Iowa will follow. For more information: