COMMUNITY, SALEM EVENTS

On Juneteenth, Salem remembers history, celebrates freedom

At the Juneteenth block party in downtown Salem, keynote speaker Johnny Lake recalled childhood mornings spent with his grandmother in Tennessee. She’d get up at 4 a.m. to make biscuits, wrap up her gray braids and pack a lunch.

“And we would climb in the back of a truck at five o’clock, six o’clock in the morning to go out to the field,” he said. “The white kids kept going to school when the cotton was ready to pick.”

They were paid $3.50 per 100 pounds of cotton, he said. He later found out the processor got nearly ten times that in profit. 

“Juneteenth is a celebration, but it’s only a celebration because things were so bad for Black people in the first place,” Lake, a Eugene resident who holds a Ph.D. in educational leadership, policy, management and organization said. Lake lived in Salem for nearly three decades, starting in the 1970s.

Wilan’Dre Bell-Sims sings “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem, at Salem’s 2024 Juneteenth block party. The McKay High School senior said it was an honor to preform at the event. (Abbey McDonald/ Salem Reporter)

Juneteenth commemorates the day enslaved people in Galveston Bay, Texas, were freed. The news came to them on June 19, 1865, over two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Salem’s Juneteenth celebrations, including a local history walk, afternoon block party and a blood drive, focused on community building and education.

Lake opened his keynote speech by contrasting the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence, of all men being created equal, to policies which cemented segregation in U.S. history from blocking international marriage to the inability to vote.

“I hope you felt the contradiction that was going on with that incredible, incredible statement of freedom at the same time as there was laws after laws after laws passed to restrict the rights of African- Americans,” he said. “It was a system. It was not just a slave owner who perpetuated the enslavement and second-class status of African- Americans. It was legal in the United States.”

As he spoke, more and more people stopped what they were doing to stand and listen until a crowd had gathered. He asked them to consider themselves part of a community.

“This is a diverse crowd today, I’m so proud of Salem for showing up,” he said. “Let’s continue to build this community. Community is the answer.”

Participants at the Reed Opera House on Juneteenth Community History Walk Wednesday, June 19, 2024. The Reed was the site of the Emancipation Jubilee in 1872 where the Reverend Daniel Jones was the speaker. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Starting at 9 a.m., groups gathered at the Willamette Heritage Center to learn about the life of Rev. Daniel Jones and his family, for the second annual local walking tour highlighting the lives of Salemites who lived through emancipation. Last year’s walk focused on philanthropists Albert and Mary Ann Bayless.

Jones was born in Pennsylvania 1830, to a father who had escaped enslavement. Jones followed the gold rush and eventually ended up in Jacksonville, Oregon, according to the Willamette Heritage Center. After moving to Salem, he ran a barbershop, attended Willamette University and founded a church.

Kylie Pine, curator at the Willamette Heritage Center, speaks to Juneteenth Community History Walk participants about Daniel Jones’s original barbershop at the corner of State Street and Durbin’s Alley in downtown Salem on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

The four history walks, capped at 45 people, all reached capacity according to the heritage center’s event page. Gov. Tina Kotek was among the walkers Wednesday morning.

“Juneteenth is like a second Fourth of July for Black Americans,” said Zachary Stocks, executive director of Oregon Black Pioneers, in a statement put out by the governor’s office. The Black Pioneers is one of the groups who organized the history walks. 

“It’s a day for us to remember our enslaved ancestors, and to celebrate the anniversary of when freedom came to Black people nationwide,” Stocks said.

The Carlson family walks down Liberty Street while on the Juneteenth Community History Walk in downtown Salem on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m the Salem-Keizer NAACP’s Juneteenth block party brought over a hundred people and featured a dozen resource booths, a bounce house, kids activities and music.

Booths included The KROC Center, Black Joy Oregon and CASA of Marion County. At Becka Makes Buttons’ booth, kids assembled colorful buttons to press and take home.

The BE BLAC Foundation, a Salem-based nonprofit, provided food for the event. The group hosts community and youth development events and uplifts local Black-owned businesses.

Jasmine Wilder and Sarah Arbuckle show off their harvest from the Black Joy Farm at the Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block Party on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Executive Director Gregg Peterson laid out a variety of history books at the organization’s booth, including children’s books free to take home. Throughout the event, kids flocked to choose a book, and Peterson answered attendee’s questions about the significance of Juneteenth.

“It’s all about history. I don’t want to say Black history, because it’s all of our history. It’s a shared history,” he told Salem Reporter. 

He said he’s happy to see kids take an interest in reading.

“When I see a parent pick up a book for a little kid, that means the parent’s going to read to that kid. That’s even more important,” he said.

Aaron and Alvin Kinabo took time to create masterpieces at the Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block Party on Wednesday June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)



At the Salem Red Cross Donor Center in northeast Salem, the Juneteenth blood drive was nearly fully booked, said associate Dawn Smith during the block party. The Red Cross booth shared information about sickle cell disease. One in 13 African Americans carries the gene for the disease.

Smith said that people with the disease can only receive blood transfusions from people who carry a specific antigen common to people of African-American descent. June 19 is also World Sickle Cell Awareness Day. 

“That donor pool in the Salem area is much smaller than a lot of our other communities. So we’re always looking for opportunities where we can draw the community together and build that blood supply that’s needed,” she said. Donation appointments can be scheduled online.

Participants head towards the next stop on the tour downtown during the Juneteenth Community History Walk on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
The entrance to the 2024 Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block on Wednesday June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
Makai DeBerry holds his baked goods for sale in his booth at the Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block Party on Wednesday June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
DJ Eric D. Franklin keeps the crowd dancing at the Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block Party on Wednesday June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
The Salem-Keizer NAACP booth had a steady stream of visitors at the Juneteenth Block Party on Wednesday June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
Ashley Dunn, NAACP Youth Development Chair, speaks at the Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block Party on Wednesday June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
Mia and Fee White fill up their plates at the Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block Party on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
Participants in the Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block Party take a shade break on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
People line up for food at the Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block Party on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
The Wade family at the Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block Party on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
Mariah Pennyman at her booth during the Salem-Keizer NAACP Juneteenth Block Party on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.