Hundreds of modern freedom marchers took to the streets Friday in celebration of Juneteenth, one of the oldest commemorations of the end of slavery in the U.S.
“We want to be a part of something that is deeply rooted in the history of Black culture and heritage,” said Sedaé Slaughter, founder of Generation Genesis, one of the event organizers. “We really just want our voices to be heard. Marching, protesting and rallying are all signs of unity. They’re signs that you’re not alone.”
By Friday morning, approximately 130 people had registered online. According to the event organizers, more than 1,000 turned up in person.
“There’s beauty in everyone coming together,” said Keyona Osborne, co-founder of It Ends Now Charlotte, one of the event organizers. “I hope that even if someone didn’t hear the poet, or the woman that gave us a history of Juneteenth, if all someone got to do is see Black, Asian, brown, Latino, come together, that they realize that things can happen when we all work together.”
In the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths at the hands of police officers, the Black Lives Matter movement has been calling to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Currently, the day is recognized by 46 states, including North Carolina, and the District of Columbia as a state or ceremonial holiday.
Charlotte’s Juneteenth Freedom March began with speakers at First Ward Park. This was followed by a half-mile procession to the Black Lives Matter mural on Tryon Street, looping back to the park.
“Just being on the same street as the Black Lives Matter mural is history,” Slaughter said. “We are living as all of this is happening and that within itself is amazing. We’ve come this far, we can’t stop now.”
With encouragement from organizers, marchers braved scattered rains and 80-degree heat wearing durags — a cap typically worn to protect a hairdo, mostly waves, braids or dreadlocks — and other clothing representing Black American or African heritage.
“The opportunity to see people from all walks of life appreciate Black culture in its purest form is just a beautiful thing,” Osbourne said. “We don’t always get to see and appreciate the different expressions of people’s culture.”
Protesting in a Pandemic
As COVID-19 still poses a threat in North Carolina, organizers promoted the use of face masks among Juneteenth celebrators and advised general social distancing.
Unlike Raleigh and other cities across the state, the wearing of face masks in public is not mandated in Charlotte.
“There’s always going to be something that’s going to try to stop the protests or the rallies and silence our voices,” Slaughter said. “People are so fed up to the point where they are willing to risk their health and their lives to make sure their voices are heard.”
Any future Black Lives Matter events will continue to promote safety precautions against COVID-19, Osbourne said. The Juneteenth Freedom March was live streamed on several of the organizations’ social media accounts so that people who didn’t feel comfortable coming to the event could still participate from home.
“You can show love to your Black neighbor, you can show that Black lives matter by staying home if you’re sick, by wearing a mask if you don’t know what symptoms you have,” Osbourne said. “By just taking the right precautions to make sure we truly demonstrate that we care about people’s lives.”
The NC News Intern Corps is a program of the NC Local News Workshop, funded by the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund and housed at Elon University’s School of Communications.