Juneteenth: More than a barbecue

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UAA's Juneteenth Celebration took place on June 19 in the Cuddy Quad. Photo credit: Robin O'Donoghue

On June 19, UAA students, faculty and community members gathered to celebrate Juneteenth with a barbecue, live music and various other games and activities.

Juneteenth is a holiday that marks the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865, as well as the emancipation of African-Americans enslaved throughout the Confederate and southern states.

The annual event is put on by UAA Student Activities and the Black Student Union and has been taking place on campus for 14 years.

Anthony Taylor, an English literature major and executive secretary for the Black Student Union, was in charge of the pie eating contest, a tradition of UAA’s Juneteenth celebration.

“Student Activities does the brunt of the work… but they’ve been very good about including the BSU in events like this,” Taylor said.

Kojin Tranberg, Commuter Student Programs Coordinator for Student Life and Leadership, explained that the Juneteenth event at UAA has always been a coordinated effort between the Multicultural Center, Student Activities and the BSU.

“This year is kind of neat because the event actually falls on Juneteenth,” Tranberg said. “This year, we [had] music from John Damberg Jazz [Ensemble], food from the Smokehouse BBQ food truck and also some different community members like Juneteenth Anchorage tabling,” Tranberg said.

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Gwendolyn Alexander of Juneteenth Anchorage was at the event. She noted the decreasing attendance of UAA’s Juneteenth Celebration over the last several years.

“I’ve been coming for about 10 years… it used to be that there were so many different types of food, lots of different groups tabling, and you would never have seen empty tables in the lawn like there is today,” Alexander said. “But I’ll always keep coming. I have tons of Juneteenth information to share and I love to talk to people about Juneteenth.”

The Alaska Highway Project was one such group tabling at the event. Jean Pollard, Chair of The Alaska Highway Project, was there to educate UAA students and community members who were unaware of the role African-American soldiers had building the Alaska Highway.

“People just don’t know about it,” Pollard said. “I didn’t even know about it until I started researching it… and I graduated with a degree in history from UAA.”

After Pearl Harbor was bombed, in 1942, in an effort to help fortify and defend Alaska from the threat of Japanese invasion, the United States Army began construction on the Alaska Highway. Around 3,000 of the soldiers who worked on the project were African-American and subjected to brutal and even deadly conditions working on the project.

“We want to educate the schools and the community so everybody will know about what happened,” Pollard said.