Moscow prepares for Juneteenth celebration

The celebration will combine Moscow and Pullman events, will include speakers and activities for children



Friendship Square, the surrounding area of the upcoming celebration

JOSIAH PIKE, Evergreen news co-editor

The Moscow Human Rights Commission will host a celebration for Juneteenth at Friendship Square this Monday from noon – 4 p.m.

Ken Faunce, Moscow Human Rights Commission chair, said this year will be the second where the Pullman and Moscow communities will hold a celebration for Juneteenth.

“We decided to combine the Pullman and Moscow celebrations into one instead of trying to compete with each other,” Faunce said. “This year it will be in Friendship Square in Moscow and next year we’ll be in Pullman. We’ll go back and forth like that.”

Juneteenth, a celebration commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, has officially been a federal holiday since 2021. Faunce said there will be a wide range of activities for attendees, including a DJ playing music throughout, a food truck and activities for children.

Faunce said the ceremony will feature two speakers, Marlene Gaynair, WSU assistant history professor, and Scott Finnie, Eastern Washington University Africana studies professor.

More activities will be held after this event is over he said. At 7 p.m., the Kenworthy Theatre will host a free showing of Cheryl Dunye’s “The Watermelon Woman.” The 1996 film stars Dunye, who reseraches The Watermelon Woman, a black actress from the 1930’s who often played the stereotypical “mammy” archetype during the period.

Gaynair will be the first speaker to give their presentation. She will be speaking about the ideas of emancipation and freedom in the United States.

Gaynair said this is her first Juneteenth celebration in the Pullman community. She said it has been interesting to see how different places celebrate the ideas of emancipation and freedom.

“As a historian, obviously people know history is important. If you don’t remember the past you’re doomed to repeat it,” she said. “History is important, even more so these days when there can be moments of disinformation.”

Gaynair said she hopes people who attend her presentation leave understanding the African American experience in the U.S. better and that there is more to it than they may be aware of.

“I want people to take away from the idea that we are celebrating June 19, 1865, its origins in Galveston, Texas, but also the evolution of the African American experience and celebrating what it means to be free,” Gaynair said. “You don’t need to be African American to acknowledge U.S. history, to have empathy, because this is something that affects all of us.”

Gaynair said she also hopes people who attend the celebration will learn something, but at the same time enjoy the moment and leave wanting to learn more about U.S. and African American history.

Finnie will speak after Gaynair. Finnie said his presentation will focus on the significance, history and relevance of Juneteenth.

“What I’m really going to tap into is that differences are a strength and not a liability,” Finnie said. “I’m going to talk about the idea of race as a social construct and that our differences are mainly cultural and ethnic but not actually race.”

Finnie said he has been teaching in the Africana studies program for the past 30 years. He has given many presentations over the years, particularly during Black History Month.

There has been an increase in widespread recognition of Juneteenth since it has become a federal holiday, Finnie said. He attributes it in part to a desire to gain a greater understanding of the fullness of American history.

Finnie said he hopes people who listen to his presentation consider spending time to research and learn about aspects of American history they may not know as much about.

“It’s amazing how much we can learn and acknowledge by pulling back the veil of what is real American history with an idea of how to use it,” Finnie said. “Not to beat down, to point at people, not to divide, but to use that to learn what it means to be empathetic, and what it means to listen and to honor and respect people’s struggles so that we can move forward together.”

Faunce said the Moscow Human Rights Commission is a city volunteer commission that puts on various events focused on education and human rights issues throughout the year. The commission chose to combine the two celebrations in part to avoid competition between Pullman and Moscow.

Faunce said he expects bigger crowds this year because the celebrations are combined instead of divided among two celebrations. The goal of the celebration is to recognize and celebrate Juneteenth and highlight why it is still important, which he anticipates the speakers will do.

Faunce said he believes this will continue to be a yearly event, with next year’s being held in Pullman. In addition, he hopes the day will be celebrated by larger numbers of people as the years go on.

“We definitely invite people to come on out,” Faucne said. “They don’t have to stay the whole time, they can stay as long as they want. We want people to come out and we want people to engage with the celebration.”