'Black and brown people have a right to existence.' Thousands march in Ann Arbor on Juneteenth.

Saturday, June 20, 2020 - 11:03pm

Over 2,000 people crowded the Diag on Friday to celebrate Juneteenth.

Over 2,000 people crowded the Diag on Friday to celebrate Juneteenth. Buy this photo
Maddie Fox/Daily

Over 2,000 people crowded the Diag on Friday to celebrate Juneteenth, the day when African slaves in Texas were told they were free –– two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. This event, hosted by Survivors Speak and other local organizers, aimed to incorporate awareness for police brutality into a day of celebration.

Event organizer Trische’ Duckworth, Survivors Speak founder, told The Daily even though Juneteenth is a day of celebrating the progress in America towards equality, Black people are continuously fighting racism and systemic oppression. 

“You think about Juneteenth being a celebration, but what are we really celebrating? Because although we’re free, we’re not really free,” Duckworth said. “Because there are laws that are put in place to stop us as melanated folks to have freedom and justice for all. So while we did want to celebrate and that’s why we ended with the dance party, we also wanted to focus on what’s going on in the world right now and how we have to come together as a people to fight for justice and use it as a call to action and then end it with a small, short celebration.”

After an open letter was sent to University President Mark Schlissel by School of Education staff members to encourage the University to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday in the workplace, many schools within the University allowed their staff early dismissal to participate in Juneteenth events. An email was also sent by Robert Sellers, chief diversity officer and vice provost for equity and inclusion, encouraging University employees to allow staff to participate in Juneteenth events. 

Speakers and performers at the protest included politicians, Washtenaw County residents and local artists. 

Former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed spoke about reaching out against injustice and breaking the barriers of a racist society. 

“So we see that it’s been 155 years since we abolished, finally, the idea of (Black people) being concluded as part of what was private property,” El-Sayed said. “Well we’ve got a lot more work to be including Black folks … We are here today because that work is not over. We are here today because as we recognize as we stand on the floor of that moment, we all better reach out fists up high to break the ceiling that tell us that Black folks should be excluded, can be excluded, could be excluded.”

Eli Savit, Washtenaw County prosecutor candidate, talked about the school to prison pipeline. Savit referenced the book “The New Jim Crow,” when discussing how the U.S. criminal justice system is the modern day slavery that prevents Black people from having freedom.

“70 percent of the children in our juvenile detention centers are black,” Savit said. “Is the school to prison pipeline still freedom? And freedom does not come about even after somebody is released from prison or from jail. In the ‘New Jim Crow,’ Michelle Alexander made the case that we have replaced the old Jim Crow, the formal laws in the South, for a new Jim Crow in which we deny people coming back from prison (and) jails the opportunity to maintain jobs, to get housing, to continue their education.”

Halfway through the march, protesters kneeled in front of the Ann Arbor Municipal Center for eight minutes and 46 seconds to commemorate the death of George Floyd. Once the crowd reached the Diag again, people were dancing and celebrating Juneteenth. 

LSA and STAMPS senior Valerie Le said people should look into the history of America for themselves because much of it is whitewashed, which is why she never heard of Juneteenth before college. 

“I think that people should recognize that history is so much deeper than what we’ve been taught,” Le said. “Especially growing up in a super white town, I’ve never heard of Juneteenth before and (did) not learn a lot about Black history. I think it’s important to learn about all the facets that make up Black history and not just the history of white supremacy that we’ve been taught in school.”

Hugo Mack, Washtenaw County prosecutor candidate, was one of the speakers at the event. Mack told The Daily in an interview that Juneteenth is symbolic of his humanity as a Black man and reminds him what had to happen in order for Black people to be recognized at all.

“It means an affrontation of who I am, my humanity,” Mack said. “A lot of things can be taken from people in life. You can take somebody’s goods, you can take their reputation, you can take all manner of physical things, but when you rob a person of humanity, that is killing them because you deny their right to existence. Juneteenth means acknowledging to the world, Black and brown people have a right to existence. Black and brown people are the only people in history of this nation that have had to have three constitutional amendments –– 13th, 14th and 15th –– a whole host of civil rights legislation, just to make us be visible.”

Event organizer Evan Valentine told The Daily the success of the Juneteenth protests shows him people can continue to show up until serious change has been made.

“I see this as a spark to keep the movement going,” Valentine said. “I’ve been seeing the movement on social media dying down just a little bit as time has been going on but it’s essential that we keep going. I feel like this is an indicator that we can keep going. As a small group of people who got this together with the help of many other people, people can keep doing this until our voices are heard, until justice is served, until change actually happens.”

Summer Managing News Editor Jasmin Lee can be reached at itsshlee@umich.edu