The historic plight of Black America often reduces Charlie James to tears.
“I can’t talk about black folks without crying … it’s just that deep for me,” James, a longtime Seattle activist and community organizer, told the crowd at the Juneteenth celebration and festival at Kent’s Morrill Meadows Park last Saturday.
“You are the most unique racial group this planet may have ever seen,” he said. “We have just scratched the surface of our ability.”
James was the keynote speaker for the event, a community-wide celebration that commemorates African-American freedom. Kent Black Action Commission (KBAC) presented the sixth annual festival – a full day of guest speakers, music, prayer, dance, food and vendors.
Seattle jazz guitarist Michael Powers returned for the second straight year to headline the entertainment.
Juneteenth marks an important day in African-American history. It has been 152 years since the word of the signing, on Sept. 22, 1862, of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. Each year on or about June 19, celebrations take place throughout the United States to remember and pay homage to the historic day. It is the oldest, nationally-celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the country.
Juneteenth’s impact is not lost on James, who has seen life from the bottom.
Born on a sharecropping farm in Missouri, James was one of 12 children raised in Michigan. A struggling student in his youth, he blossomed into a scholar, eventually moving to Seattle in 1971 to attend the University of Washington. He has been involved in activism and community work ever since.
James reminded the crowd that it is important for the black community to be heard and understood, reiterating the historical significance of their achievements and the fact that a majority of African Americans are native to America.
Black America’s best days are still ahead, he said, recognizing the fact that many generations have confronted and overcame problems of discrimination and inequity. Those challenges, those advancements in society continue today.
“We don’t get enough information about us. We talk about what we should do. We talk about what we have not done, but we really don’t talk about us,” James said. “The most important thing about getting things done is to have a clear idea about who you are. You’ve got to have an idea about what makes you who you are.”
For James, co-founder at Martin Luther King County Advocacy and Motivational Program and founder of Martin Luther King Memorial Park, the work continues. James is also a researcher, historian and writer who is proud of his heritage and the many people he represents and touches.