Juneteenth — short for June 19, 1865 — marks the day when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned they were free two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The holiday has been celebrated by Black people and African Americans for centuries but this year's celebrations have taken on a new meaning in the wake of widespread protests against racism.
About 50 people organized at one event Thursday night in Littleton. The crowd held signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Their Name.”
Larry Thompson Sr., chairman of Littleton’s Next Generation Advisory Committee and vice president of Colorado Young Democrats, co-hosted the event. He said its important to have Black Lives Matter events in Littleton, a predominantly white and affluent suburb southeast of Denver.
“I’m here to bring more exposure,” he said. “If we can do it here, this is really a place that can redefine how it looks to build equity for people of color.”
Cars honked in support of mostly white demonstrators as they drove by in rush hour. When the community sees some people who back Black Lives Matter — or the Black Liberation Movement, as Thompson called it — he said that encourages more to embrace the message.
“This right here is telling the city, ‘We support it. It’s time for us to start listening,’” he said, adding it’s especially powerful to have white supporters for Juneteenth.
“It could have gone another way,” Thompson said. “They could have easily been like ‘Well you know, they can do their own thing. I’m not going to support it because it’s their time to celebrate’ but instead, they’re embracing it.”
Littleton resident Lynne Popkowski, another co-host of the event, said she wanted to make a visual statement on two busy streets that Centennial and Littleton residents would see. Participants stood at the intersection of South Broadway and Arapahoe Road.
“Littleton has a very small percentage of Black people living in it,” Popkowski said. “I want them to know that we’re with them. We want to understand more about their issues and how to help.”
She also wanted to follow social distancing guidelines for COVID-19. She and others stood 6 feet apart and wore masks.
Young and old generations showed support. John Ferguson, an older gentleman who came to Littleton from Denver, said he has been wanting to participate in demonstrations but finally could once he knew could practice social distancing and sit down.
“Its time to try and make change,” he said. “We have so many ills in our society, so many problems. Guns, people in jail, illness, and a lot of that is caused by the fact that we are so hung up and so strung out on racism.”
Kevin Carlstead was there because he's tired of seeing racism at play every day in education, the criminal justice system and even the places he works.
“It's primarily white people out here, which is pretty great to see because white people need to be talking about this,” Carlstead said. “We need to be having these conversations. We can't stay silent anymore because, in a sense, that is white supremacy."
Joanne Grainger, one of two Black people who participated, attended with her husband Brian. She said she got teary-eyed when she arrived and saw so many white people showing support.
“We protested in the 60s during the Civil Rights Movement and this to me is so much more emotional because it’s so blatant,” she said. “It’s so disheartening and disillusioning but so good to see people are standing up. It means a lot.”
Looking for a Juneteenth event near you? Check out this handy map.