Ashland, Ore. — The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) hosted its annual Juneteenth celebration on Monday, June 17, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States with a day full of jubilant performances.
The day’s activities included a variety show on OSF’s Courtyard Stage, a play reading and an exhibit. The celebration also continues Wednesday, June 19, at the Ashland Public Library with a book reading and panel discussion, according to OSF.
The 2019 Juneteenth theme is “Jubilee: Celebrate the Shift,” encouraging Rogue Valley residents to reflect on each person's individual stake in the "ever-present conversation of race, gender, ethnicity, ability, class, religion and nationality," OSF said.
"It invites all people to explore how emancipation has evolved into practices of equity, diversity and inclusion as tools for collective freedom to improve our communities, places of work and sites of recreation," the organization said.
Juneteenth is the oldest-known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major-General Gordon Granger led his Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863.
Today, Juneteenth commemorates African-American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions come together to acknowledge a period that shaped history and continues to influence society.
- The day kicked off with an 11:00 a.m. play reading of the ripple, the wave that carried me home by Christina Anderson (writer of How to Catch Creation) at the Thomas Theatre.
- The public is encouraged to visit the Black Swan Lobby throughout the day, especially before or after the play reading, to experience a JET Gala display curated by Whitney Reed, OSF membership and patron engagement coordinator. The installation used clothing and visual art to explore the impact of forced African labor and forms of cultural resistance through music and other arts.
- A variety show on OSF’s Courtyard Stage beginning at 5:30 p.m. will be the day’s main event. ASL interpreters will also be provided. The approximately hour-long program of original spoken word, dance, music, visual art and theatre excerpts was co-created by a group of OSF company members under the leadership of Tyrone Wilson, Juneteenth producer, and William Thomas Hodgson, Juneteenth artistic director — both of whom are also OSF actors.
- Attendees of Juneteenth activities and the public are also welcome to head over to Northwest Pizza & Pasta Company (1585 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland) at 6:30 p.m. after the variety show to support local business and continue celebrating in fellowship.
“As always, our Juneteenth celebration is an opportunity to recognize the work of Rogue Valley artists of the African Diaspora while acknowledging the personal and community work that continues to make the Rogue Valley a more welcoming and safe space for all communities of color,” Wilson said.
Hodgson added, “With Juneteenth and more events to come, the OSF community is excited to be celebrating the coming Jubilee year in 2020, a national theatre initiative in which performance art venues produce works by women, people of color, artists of varied physical and cognitive ability, and /or LGBTQIA artists.”
All events are free and open to the public, though donations to the Juneteenth Fund are encouraged to ensure that this volunteer-based program continues.
The Juneteenth Celebration continues on Wednesday, June 19, at the Ashland Public Library with “Super Space Storytime,” a book reading series by OSF actors Christiana Clark, Lauren Modica and Kevin Kenerly from 10:45 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., as well as a panel discussion from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. featuring Rogue Valley community leaders that will include Torrie Allen, director of development for OSF, Lieutenant Hector Meletich from Ashland Police Department and others, exploring health, wealth, safety, education and spirituality through the lens of Afrofuturism.