See also the editorial in The Skanner by Bernie Foster, Grand Marshal of the 2011 Portland Juneteenth Parade and Celebration.
My speech at Jefferson High School following the Juneteenth parade on 6/18/11:
Today, we remember and celebrate the end of legal slavery in America, as the date the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865.
A few years ago, not many Americans were aware of the Juneteenth celebration. That number is growing rapidly as the celebrations grow and more states formally recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. The remembrance in Portland was started and continued by Ms. Clara Peoples, formerly a Vanport shipyard worker.
Even as we celebrate this event from nearly 150 years ago, we also realize that injustices and inequities did not end with the abolishment of slavery. We recognize that nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act and major Civil Rights legislation was passed, slavery still exists in Portland. Day Laborers stand on the street named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, not knowing whether they will be paid at the end of their work day. On other streets in Portland, women and men are forced to sell their bodies multiple times daily, with few options to allow them to escape. And much work remains to eliminate the institutional inequities and racism that remains in American society.
In his book Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:
"I do not want to give the impression that non- violence will work miracles overnight. Men are not easily moved from mental ruts or purged of their prejudice and irrational feelings. When the underprivileged demand freedom, the privileged first react with bitterness and resistance. Even when the demands are couched in non-violent terms, the initial response is the same... The non-violent approach does not immediately change the hearts of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them a new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally, it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality."
Those words were written in 1958, the year I was born. The privileged are still reacting with bitterness and resistance. Hearts still need to be changed. Reconciliation remains a work-in-progress.
The Equity Initiative and the new Office of Equity that Mayor Adams and I are creating is a recognition that we must do more to eliminate the inequities that exist. There are many people in our community who remain left behind from the prosperity and opportunities that exist for the majority. Please join us in our efforts, because we must succeed. The alternative is unacceptable.
Enjoy this day of celebration, and let’s keep moving forward.