Yolo County Juneteenth honors Tuskegee Airmen, remembers Buffalo Soldiers
Bill Terrell straightened his navy cowboy hat under the late-morning sun on June 2. The yellow tassels around the crown of his hat rustled in the breeze, his matching yellow neckerchief moving as well.
He was attending the annual Yolo County Juneteenth celebration at Davis Veterans Memorial Center to educate visitors about the Buffalo Soldiers, the first peacetime all-black regiments in the U.S. Army. They were formed on Sept. 21, 1866, in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Terrell’s father was a Buffalo Soldier.
They “protected the settlers. Expansion in the old west wouldn’t have occurred (if it wasn’t) for the Buffalo Soldiers,” Terrell said as a group of kids passed by, oohing and aahing at his old western get-up. “You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you came from.”
Juneteenth is the oldest celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the U.S. Though President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, declaring “all persons held as slaves” free, slavery continued in Texas. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that the last known slaves were emancipated, thus the ending of slavery is celebrated annually on this date. Juneteenth is a mix of the words “June” and “nineteenth.”
Yolo County’s celebration is put on by the City of Davis Arts and Cultural Affairs Program with support from The Culture C.O.-O.P. Sandy Holman, one of the event’s head organizers, said the celebration is meant to honor and educate about all aspects of black U.S. history. The event features local entertainers, vendors, educational programs and homemade food, including macaroni and cheese, collard greens and cornbread.
“We take the time out to say thank you to our forebears for all they’ve sacrificed for us,” said Holman, who was draped in a purple shawl, a purple seashell necklace and shaded by a purple broad-brimmed hat.
This year’s celebration honored members of the Yolo community who were Tuskegee Airmen and descendants of Buffalo Soldiers. Tuskegee Airmen were African American military pilots who fought in World War II.
“When we celebrate this (day), it’s a love fest. We encourage people to learn our history,” Holman said.
As she turned to greet an attendee, a local jazz band teased Miles Davis’ song “So What” inside the building. A group of elders scurried through the front doors, ready to enjoy the dissonant tune on the warm afternoon.
This year’s celebration featured a display of 10 quilts from local educator and quilt-maker Khristel Johnson. For many years, Johnson has created large quilts that showcase the events and figures in African and African American history she feels are not taught well or at all in the U.S. public school system.
Johnson’s quilts lined the walls of Veterans Memorial Center, donning vibrant red, yellow and green fabrics, covered in patches of text and imagery.
“The void that is missing in many of the lives of our kids is a sense of self and a sense of who we are as African Americans,” Johnson said.
The Little Rock Nine, Michelle Obama, the Freedom Riders and Septima Poinsette Clark were a few of the many featured historical figures on Johnson’s creations. Johnson has made more than 30 historical quilts and hoped displaying them at this year’s Juneteenth celebration would inspire visitors to learn more about African and African American history.
“It is a celebration of our history; celebration of freedoms that we still continue to fight to claim,” Johnson said.
While Johnson returned to talk to visitors about her quilts, Holman kicked off the festivities by honoring local elders in attendance. She peered into a sea of smiling faces ready to eat, dance and learn. Holman straightened her purple hat. The huge chiffon flowers on the crown wavered as she composed herself.
“This is American history and something that we need to confront, talk about, figure out how we can work together to make things better and bring out the best in all of us,” Holman said. “All of us are brothers and sisters. All of us are the human race.”