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Rain can’t dampen Juneteenth celebrations in Durango

Community members gather at 11th Street Station to celebrate Black culture
Southwest Movement for Black Lives leader Tracy Jones, right, and Durango High School teacher Sarah Sanchez Armstrong embrace at the end of the Juneteenth celebration Sunday at 11th Street Station in Durango. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

About 40 people gathered Sunday under tents at 11th Street Station to celebrate Juneteenth.

Because of the weekend storms, the event was moved from Buckley Park to 11th Street Station.

“I really feel the support of the community knowing that last-minute we made the change,” said Tracy Jones, director of the Southwest Movement for Black Lives. “It’s raining and it’s Father’s Day but a lot people still showed up and I really appreciate it.”

Black Lives Matter flags during a rainstorm Sunday afternoon outside 11th Street Station in Durango. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

Juneteenth celebrates the ending of slavery in the United States, and specifically dates back to June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, when enslaved people were told slavery had ended. In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis signed a law May 2 making Juneteenth a state holiday. President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in June 2021, making it a federal holiday.

Hosted by Southwest Movement for Black Lives, the event featured multiple organizations, including Alliance for Diversity, Sexual Assault Services Organization and Durango High School Black Student Alliance. Alliance for Diversity paid for catered food from Eat Zawadi, a Black-owned business, in a show of support for local Black businesses.

“It’s all about the organizations working together, collaborating and being in solidarity with each other,” Jones said.

Attendees lined up to enjoy Chef Arnold Safari Ngumbo’s samosas as well as an assortment Southern-style food. As they enjoyed their food, members of the Southwest Movement for Black Lives and Black Student Alliance spoke.

Chef Arnold Safari Ngumbo dishes up authentic African cuisine while showing off some artwork. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

Jones said working with young people is important for a holiday such as Juneteenth. It is not just about the celebration but the education and how youths can learn from history, she said.

“When we first started, it was hard to get going working with the youth,” she said. “We wanted to work with the college, we wanted to work with the high school. Now, they have such a great set of leaders. The organization is really strong.”

Pan-African flag

At one table, people could paint the Pan-African, African American or Juneteenth flag. The Pan-African flag was created by Marcus Garvey and came into use in 1920. Garvey designed the flag as a response to a popular song that said his race had no flag of its own.

Also, the DHS Black Student Alliance raised money for a Historically Black College and Universities tour in Atlanta next spring. The fundraising goal for the group is $23,000.

“We’re about halfway there with our fundraising,” said Sarah Sanchez Armstrong, a DHS teacher. “We’re selling buttons made by the BSA and there are other ways people can donate directly to help us go.”

Jones later spoke about a passage called “How the Thirteenth Amendment kept slavery alive,” from the Innocence Project. She talked about how Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom but there is still a lack of freedom in the United States.

“The truth is we’re not really free. Because today, there are still problems. We’re still fighting the same fight,” she said. “Everyone needs to be aware of that and educate ourselves about what that means.”

She said those wrongly imprisoned have spent years working in prisons for cents per hour while those outside prison profit. She referenced Parchman Farm in Mississippi and Angola plantation in Louisiana. Both are former plantations that have been turned into state prisons. She also talked about the stories of Malcolm Alexander, Henry James and Calvin Duncan, three Black men who were wrongly imprisoned and exonerated after spending much of their lives in prison.

Members of Alliance for Diversity hold a Black Lives Matter flag in celebration of the Juneteenth holiday Sunday in Durango. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

Jones said that after the abolition of chattel slavery, Angola relied on the labor of Black prisoners released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In 1898, the convict-leasing system was banned and Louisiana purchased Angola plantation establishing the prison there.

“Today, the prison spans 18,000 acres, most of it farm land, and its slavery-era name is still in use,” she said. “About 5,300 people are incarcerated at Angola and approximately 1,800 people work there, many of whom live on the prison grounds. People incarcerated at Angola are paid a few cents an hour to work the same fields picking cotton, corn and more from the same land slaves were forced to work 200 years ago.”

She said Louisiana has one of the highest rates of exoneration in the country at 64 during the history of the state, but the data reflects only wrongful convictions that are known about.


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