Juneteenth campus community involvement - June 21, 2022

To the Eastern Michigan University community,

As Juneteenth celebrations over the weekend and yesterday’s second annual federal holiday have come to a close, please join me in acknowledging the fine efforts by members of our campus community to support Juneteenth activities.

Last Friday, Interim Chief Diversity Officer Doris Fields was the keynote speaker at Washtenaw County’s second annual flag raising ceremony to celebrate Juneteenth. Dr. Fields’ involvement and remarks are captured in this MLive story.

The article quotes several of Dr. Fields’ remarks. Among them: “When I think about Juneteenth and restoration, I think about freedom, hope and repair. But it did not give us freedom from Jim Crow. It did not give us freedom from lynching. It did not give us freedom from the disenfranchisement of Black voters.”

To help broaden the understanding of the African American experience and celebrate past and present accomplishments, several professors hosted various Juneteenth events.

Part-time lecturers Micala Evans and Imelda Hunt of EMU’s Department of Africology and African American Studies (AAAS) curated a Juneteenth Awareness Tour in three communities, with presentations to engage community members in the newly recognized federal holiday. 

“We want everyone to understand that this holiday is because freedom did not come to all enslaved persons at the same time nor with the stroke of President Lincoln’s pen,” said Dr. Hunt.

“Freedom had to be taught, and people had to understand then, just as we do now, what freedom means,” said Dr. Evans, who also founded Idlewild Juneteenth Festival in Idlewild, Mich.

Sunday, AAAS scheduled a Juneteenth commemorative lecture via Zoom. Mark Fancher, staff attorney for ACLU's Racial Justice Project, was the invited guest speaker. 

AAAS Associate Professor Toni Pressley-Sanon conducted an educational program as part of Ypsilanti’s Juneteenth events.

EMU alumna Sharon Burrell was featured on WDIV-TV about a Juneteenth reenactment of the 102nd United States Colored Infantry Regiment at Camp Ward in Detroit. She explained that contrary to the common misconception that freedom was just handed to Black people, Black soldiers played a critical role in the Civil War, and many were killed or wounded fighting to end slavery.

Burrell studied history at EMU after retiring from a career as a microbiologist for the City of Detroit’s Water Department. She teaches history at Rochester University.

And, alumna Porsha Webb was featured on FOX2 Detroit for her design work to create a Juneteenth t-shirt for her company.

I know that many people on our campus participated in their own celebrations or community events, and these are all equally important. As I conclude, I am reminded a about the powerful essay published two years ago by Dr. Pressley-Sanon, “Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired.” The points she makes, and the learning she recommends, remain as relevant as ever.

James Smith, Ph.D.