The Juneteenth celebration Friday at Buckley Park in Durango began with electronic music, a person walking on stilts through a crowd of about 200 people and the words of former President Barack Obama.
“Juneteenth is a time to recommit ourselves to the work that remains undone. We remember that even in the darkest hours there is cause to hope for tomorrow’s light,” read one speaker from a 2016 speech by Obama.
Durango civil rights organizations, like Durango Peace and Justice, organized the gathering for Juneteenth, a celebration marking the end of slavery in Texas in 1865 more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Durango’s first Juneteenth celebration was in 2017.
Speakers during this year’s event called on the community, particularly white community members, to take action to support people of color.
“America is not the land of the free and it never was,” said Alex Blocker, a Durango resident, who spoke at the event. “I don’t say that to disrespect our nation. I say that to motivate us, as the people of this nation, to push America to keep a promise that it’s been making for over 300 years.”
Most of the attendees wore masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and left space between groups to stay socially distant. No counterprotesters made an appearance at the event.
About 200 people have crowded into the park every Friday since the Justice for George Floyd march May 30. Minneapolis police killed Floyd while he was in police custody. The four now-fired officers face charges because of their actions during the arrest.
The June 5 gathering honored Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by Kentucky law enforcement officers in March, on her birthday. Hours after Durango residents gathered June 12, police officers in Atlanta fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, who was fleeing during a struggle at a Wendy’s drive-thru.
President Donald Trump scheduled a campaign event on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The campaign moved the event to Saturday in response to public outcry citing a 1921 massacre. The massacre occurred when a white mob attacked residents in a predominantly Black neighborhood, called Greenwood, killing hundreds and leaving thousands homeless, according to History.com.
“It feels like a declaration of war against my people – for (Trump) to hold a speech at the massacre of one of our first economic accomplishments,” Blocker said. “It’s dangerous to label those people ignorant because they know what they do.”
The event’s speakers shared some of their experiences as Black people living in Southwest Colorado. One person, who preferred to be called LJ, talked about the harmful impact of seeing a Confederate flag in her Cortez neighborhood and the fear of being pulled over by law enforcement while driving from Cortez to Durango.
Blocker said he heard the n-word in Durango three times before April.
“I felt disarmed. I didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t really know what to do. I had never really had anyone speak to me like that before,” he said. “But it happened for the first time here, make no mistake.”
The speakers called on community members to do more to support people of color, like supporting Black-owned businesses, taking down the “Chief” sign across from the Toh-Atin Gallery and removing the Confederate flag from the Bayfield Fourth of July parade.
Community members Ashley Pittillo and Annalee Garcia said their main takeaway was the call to do more to support communities of color.
“Like speaking out when you hear a racist comment and holding yourself accountable,” Pittillo said.
Wilder Valdez, 7, felt he would remember the historical background of Juneteenth the most. Sally Silva, an Ignacio resident, felt tired.
“I protested in Berkeley and San Francisco for civil rights in the ’60s,” Silva said. “This has been going on for so long. It’s time to get our s--- together.”