Black History Month is the perfect moment to invite our Walla Walla community members to this year’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 17 in Washington Park. During this season when we honor Black excellence, Black joy, and Black resilience, we also look ahead to a holiday that celebrates Black freedom and collective liberation, Juneteenth.

Juneteenth was first commemorated on June 19, 1866 in Texas. It acknowledged the anniversary of the day the official communication from President Lincoln freeing enslaved people was transmitted to Texas.

We all know that President Abraham Lincoln announced his Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, officially marking the end of legal slavery. At that time, many enslaved people also knew about Lincoln's executive order freeing them from slavery. However, until June 19, 1865, there had not been an official directive from the White House allowing those individuals to actually exercise their right to freedom. Edward T. Cotham, Jr, noted historian and author of Juneteenth, The Story Behind The Celebration, said in an NPR story last August: “News like that spread like wildfire. We know some slaves knew about the Emancipation Proclamation even before slave owners. [But] it didn't mean anything because there was no army to enforce it.”

In Washington State in 2021, Governor Jay Inslee signed a measure making Juneteenth a legal state-paid holiday beginning in 2022. Accordingly, last year Walla Walla commemorated this day with a community event involving many local residents and organizations.

Since then, there has been growing enthusiasm for highlighting Juneteenth as a day to bring community members together to celebrate Black freedom and our shared emancipation. It probably does not need to be said that when one set of community members enjoys increased freedom to live a life of agency and possibility, we all benefit. Our collective capacity increases.

This year, members of Color Our Community On Awareness (COCOA) are partnering with a diverse group of community members and other non-profits in the planning for this holiday. Everyone is invited to the celebration of freedom. Our goals are to celebrate our progress, educate our community, and inspire our future. We invite ideas from all Walla Walla residents about how Juneteenth can realize these goals. If you’d like to be involved we look forward to hearing from you!

COCOA has been a part of the Walla Walla Valley since 2020 and seeks to amplify melanated voices through joy, art, and literature. We see our work as building awareness in our community of the diversity that already exists here and sharing the beauty and joy within this reality. We strive to usher our Valley to a place that welcomes diversity as part of the intricate and beautiful design of Southeast Washington.

This year, all Walla Walla residents will have the opportunity to come together to honor and celebrate Juneteenth on Saturday, June 17 in a beautiful and central location in our community — Washington Park. We purposely selected this date because while the official state holiday is Monday, June 19, we are well aware that many people still have to work that day, so celebrating on the prior Saturday allows greater access to the event.

We see this year’s Juneteenth Jubilee as a place where people can come together to celebrate diversity and acknowledge our progress while elevating the Black community. We seek to celebrate our collective freedom through education, community and diversity uplift, and amplifying Black culture in order to inspire.

We want the day to feature music, history, food, games, culture, information, and dancing. Planning is in the early stages and we are eager to hear your ideas about how this year's Juneteenth Jubilee can be meaningful and delightful. Please contact us at

We look forward to spending Juneteenth with you this year!