June 25, 2022

Finding joy on Juneteenth

Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation was delivered on Jan. 1, 1863. This speech declared all persons held as slaves to be freed from that moment forward.

However, the slaves were not freed that day. The proclamation could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control, so for some slaves, they waited much longer for their freedom.

It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, that 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The Army announced the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state were free by executive decree.

As a black woman in Creston, Amanda McVann knows how important Juneteenth is to her community. “For me, it’s something I learned later on in life,” she said. “It’s part of my journey to connect with my culture and learn about black culture in America.” She is the wife of Salem Lutheran Church Pastor Evan McVann.

She said it’s vital to push back against narratives trying to silence the histories of marginalized communities. “They did not liberate enslaved African folks until there was military intervention,” McVann said. “Liberation has to be fought for and fought over.”

In 2020, George Floyd’s death sparked protests across the United States. “The fight for liberation is truly never over,” McVann said. “It’s continual, generational and perpetual.”

The events that followed Floyd’s death inspired Katie Davidson to form a Human Rights Coalition in Creston. “We were seeing a lot of people being so angry,” Davidson said. “For a lot of people, it was a little bit of a wakeup call. It’s hard to imagine because it doesn’t happen here.” Davidson said having a population that’s predominantly white can make it difficult to recognize that it happens elsewhere.

The Human Rights Coalition serves as an educational group that’s supportive of people of color in the community. “There’s a community looking out for people,” Davidson said. “We want to look out for the rights of everyone.”

While Juneteenth remains a day to honor the black lives lost in the fight for emancipation, McVann said it’s about more than just that. “It’s a celebration of black joy,” she said. “It’s about the resistance, the perseverance and the joy.” McVann said when she thinks about Juneteenth, she thinks about celebrating with good music, good vibes and good food.

While there won’t be any official events happening in Creston for Juneteenth, the Human Rights Coalition will be putting up flags for the holiday, and Davidson hopes to do more in the future. “Next year we would like to have an informative program,” she said. “But we need to learn more about it too. It’s really celebrated in the African American community, but white people have no idea what it really is.”

Davidson said there is a lot to learn that isn’t taught in school, and racism persists in our community. “People of color in the community don’t really have an outlet for that and aren’t believed,” she said. “The Human Rights Coalition continues to be a place of honest conversation, civil discourse and examining our own biases.”

For McVann, the fight is ongoing. “It continues on now,” she said. “We need to continue the resistance against white supremacy and celebrate the victories over that. Especially this year in light of Buffalo and the other attacks of white nationalism we’ve seen these past few years.”

McVann encourages people to attend the Juneteenth celebrations in Des Moines on Saturday. “I’ll be there,” she said. “It’s going to be a good time. It will be really fun.”

Cheyenne Roche

CHEYENNE ROCHE

Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.