JoCo on the Go Podcast: Juneteenth in JoCo!

On JoCo on the Go, episode #137, a panel of experts talks about the upcoming Juneteenth holiday, which takes place on June 19. You’ll learn about the significance of and the history behind this important date. Also, hear about all of the community celebrations taking place to help you honor Juneteenth. Learn more at

JoCo on the Go Webcast: Juneteenth in JoCo!

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Time Subject
00:29 Introduction
01:39 A brief history of Juneteenth
03:32 The impact of Juneteenth becoming a national holiday
06:21 About the Advocacy and Awareness Group of Johnson County
07:10 The Advocacy and Awareness Peace March and Rally on Juneteenth
08:24 The Juneteenth in JoCo event on June 19
09:51 Juneteenth at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center
12:22 Juneteenth at the Johnson County Library
14:44 Why Juneteenth is important




Jody Hanson 00:00

Juneteenth is on June 19. And it recognizes and celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. Find out more about this important date in our nation's history and the multiple events taking place around the county to commemorate it.

Announcer 00:15

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Jody Hanson 00:29

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Jody Hanson, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Juneteenth has been celebrated throughout the United States for more than a century. It became a federal holiday in 2021. Last October, the Board of County Commissioners made it a standard fixed holiday for Johnson County Government. County government is holding its first Juneteenth observance this year, while other organizations have honored the holiday for years. Today I am joined by a panel of experts who can talk more about the importance of Juneteenth as well some of the celebrations taking place around Johnson County. Mary McMurray is the director of the Johnson County Museum. Kendra Neal Wright is Johnson County Government's talent and diversity specialist and is also on the planning committee for the organization's Juneteenth event. Elissa Andre is the external communications manager for Johnson County Library. And Linnaia McKenzie is with the Advocacy and Awareness Group of Johnson County. Thanks to all of you for joining me today. This is a great panel. It's nice to see all of you.

Elissa Andre 01:37

Thanks for having us.

Jody Hanson 01:39

Absolutely. So let's start with some information about the holiday itself. Mary, can you please give us a brief overview of the history of Juneteenth.

Mary McMurray 01:50

I'd love to share a little bit about the history. And like any good historian, I'm going to have to go a little bit back in time to do that. And so really, this is rooted in January 1 1863, when then-President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. And he said that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are henceforth are and henceforth shall be free, different sorts of language there, but essentially a freedom proclamation. And it was meant to free enslaved people in states under Union control or not under Union control. But it couldn't be implemented in places that were still under Confederate control. So it was kind of an idea that was put out there. And for enslaved people living in Texas, the western most of the Confederate States, Freedom wouldn't come until Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay and announced that the 250,000 enslaved people in the state were free by executive decree, and that was on June 19 1865. That was more than 900 days after Abraham Lincoln issued his emancipation proclamation. And more than 70 days after General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General surrendered and surrendered at Appomattox. And so Juneteenth is an annual holiday and it commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and the commemorations the celebrations have roots back to the late 1800s. In Texas. It's been called many things over time, Emancipation Day, Jubilee day Juneteenth, national freedom day Juneteenth, national independence day, black Independence Day, and today we see it celebrated around the United States. So there's just a little overview of the history, but there's way more to read. And we would always encourage people to look at great reputable sources and learn more.

Jody Hanson 03:32

Well, that was some great information just from the history of the holiday. So let's stay on history just for a second. So Mary, from a historical perspective, what do you see the impact is of Juneteenth being recognized by the federal government, our county government, and then many local jurisdictions as a holiday?

Mary McMurray 03:51

Well, the public historian I know really well that how we remember says a lot about who we are, and so for governments at all levels to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday means that we the people remember and acknowledge our history, even the difficult parts of it. It means that we can learn from our past and it means that the expansion of freedom in America is a reason for all of us to celebrate.

Jody Hanson 04:13

And let's turn to Kendra, you know, you've worked in the Human Resources Department of our organization, you also facilitate our county's VIBE advisory team and that stands for Voices of Inclusion, Belonging and Equity. What do you think it means for our county government employees that our board made Juneteenth a county holiday?

Kendra Neal Wright 04:31

I'm glad you asked about Juneteenth recognition from the employee perspective, Jody, many may not know that we wanted to include the perspective of employees in the proposal that went before the Board of County Commissioner last year to make Juneteenth a paid day off, and so I facilitated listening sessions, akin to focus groups, with various staff members, and all staff that participated were in support of making Juneteenth a county holiday, expressing the importance of this positive and inclusive step. But we also got feedback from staff, that recognition of the day should be supported with education on duty, and continued company actions to include more people.

Jody Hanson 05:15

Thank you. I you know, as an employee of this government, it means a lot to me. And I know it means a lot to a lot of our employees. So Linnea, I have a similar question for you. And this would be more from the community's perspective. What are your thoughts on Juneteenth being considered an official holiday for Johnson County government as well as maybe other cities in our county who have taken some more action? Thanks, God.

Linnaia McKenzie 05:41

The significance of the community celebrating Juneteenth as well as surrounding cities is, is really going back to the DNA of Kansas. Kansas was entered into the Union as a free state. So it is important to celebrate that and acknowledge that throughout our painful past and recognizing that slavery was a real thing in this country. So it is very relevant that we are now doing our best to celebrate the holiday. Just two years ago, there were no Juneteenth celebrations and now there are several across the county and surrounding cities. So it is really good as a community community member as well as speaking on behalf of the Advocacy and Awareness Group of Johnson County to see this happening.

Jody Hanson 06:21

And since you brought that up, I would love to hear a little bit more about your organization.

Linnaia McKenzie 06:26

Absolutely. So the Advocacy and Awareness Group of Johnson County formed in May 2020. in direct response to the murder of George Floyd, we as community members were really disheartened by that tragic event. And we wanted to see Johnson County, Kansas and our surrounding areas stand up to bring awareness and also form unity for the black community here in our area. So we are now working to bring awareness to unrepresented groups in Johnson County, black people being one of the largest one of those, and we are doing events like our third annual Advocacy and Awareness Peace March and rally, to bring the community together to celebrate Juneteenth to celebrate the black people in our community, and to bring awareness to both of those things.

Jody Hanson 07:10

Well, you know, so admirable that you've been doing this event for several years now up this piece, March and Rally. So give us a little more detail about that event. What can people expect there on June 18?

Linnaia McKenzie 07:24

So our event will be on Saturday, June 18. It'll start at 10 a.m. With a march from Overland Park City Hall, will walk all the way down Santa Fe Trail to Thompson Park, will we start a rally at 11 a.m. We've got a handful of amazing community leaders who are going to speak one of which will be Mayor Skoog of Overland Park, as well as several others that will be surprises. So you'll have to come to see who those will be. We'll also have a performance from the Kansas City, Kansas All Star Marching Band, who will come and perform for us as well as we'll have a lot of information about the history of Juneteenth education about it. And then we're going to celebrate. Juneteenth is a celebration for black people, it is our Freedom Day. So while we do have to acknowledge the past and accept where we are in the present, we still celebrate in hopes of a future where we are equitable, and where our children can grow up free. So that is the event. It'll last from 11 to 1 in Thompson Park, and we hope to see you there.

Jody Hanson 08:24

Well, we look forward to that event and know that you'll have a successful event. So thank you for sharing all those details and for being with us today. So there's a lot of events to talk about. And Kendra, you know, the VIBE Advisory Committee has been working with other county staff on county government’s Juneteenth observance, which is our first one, so please tell us what we can expect for that event.

Kendra Neal Wright 08:46

So the Johnson County, as you said Jody, inaugural Juneteenth recognition will be held Sunday, June 19, from 12 Noon to 1:30 p.m. at Johnson County Square Park. And so, we will feature the talent of Nathan Louis Jackson, who is an author, screenwriter, playwright and producer, who will emcee and open the event with an original poem. We have a historic reading from Dr. Kimberly Warren, associate dean of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and associate professor of History at University of Kansas. And we have a featured speech from Virginia Sewing, a local civil rights and fair housing pioneer, whose family was the first to integrate Johnson County and helped other black families purchase homes in this area. And so we have appearances from Little Miss Juneteenth to a step performance by a youth step team, Step Movement, and many, many other things. So we also hope to see you all out there Sunday from noon to 130 at Johnson County Square Park. Thank you.

Jody Hanson 09:51

Thank you so much. And then Mary, maybe we should have started with you because of chronological order, but your event really sort of kicks things off. So I know that there's an event happening at the Arts and Heritage Center. So tell us a little bit about that event.

Mary McMurray 10:05

Right. Thanks, Jody. Well, Juneteenth at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center will take place on Saturday, June 11, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. And this is a free, family-friendly event that was built with our community partners to honor the history of Juneteenth and also to celebrate it the way that we do in the Arts and Heritage Center. So with our music, history, fun and more. It's going to be emceed by Lonita Cook, who's a writer and a film critic, and she's also the president of the Johnson County Museum Foundation, which is the Jackson County Museum’s nonprofit partner. And it's going to feature historical reflection on Juneteenth from Jessica Lynn McClellan, who's the president and founder of Giving Hope & Health and her family has history dating all the way back to the period immediately following the Civil War here in Johnson County. We'll have Jazz storytelling, a special Walk and Read by the Johnson County Library, jazz vocalist performance Eboni Fondren and food samples from black-owned businesses as well as a community art project. And we're really excited. It's also our quarterly free day at the Johnson County Museum. That means every member of the community, anyone who'd like to come in can enter without the barrier of an expense to pay. You can come through the museum, learn the important history of Johnson County, how people have come together and help it become what they want it to be for generations. And you will get the opportunity to have guided tours of our ‘Redlined’ exhibit which will happen at 10:30, 11:30 and 12:30. So it's really going to be a wonderful day here at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, not only because of all the wonderful people that are sharing their talents with us and helping to make it a great day, but also because of this incredible collaborative community that we get to be part of. We are certainly, although we're the first of our week here in Johnson County, we're not the first Juneteenth event in the region or even in Johnson County. And there's groups like the Advocacy and Awareness Group of Johnson County the JoCo NAACP Stand Up for Black Lives Prairie Village, the City of Prairie Village’s diversity community, I'm sorry committee, excuse me, Village Church and more that have been celebrating here in Johnson County for many years. The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art and other cultural centers have long standing celebrations. And we all really stand on the shoulders of Makita Peterson and Juneteenth KC, as well as those who have gathered since the late 19th century to honor and celebrate this important day.

Jody Hanson 12:22

Yeah, our community is so blessed to have so many different choices and ways to celebrate. And so the Johnson County Library I know has also several ways that people can honor Juneteenth people of all ages. So Alissa, you could kind of talk us through what the library has planned?

Elissa Andre 12:38

Yes, thank you. So obviously, we're all about learning at the library. That's what we hope to contribute to this event. I think a lot of people in our community may have heard of Juneteenth, but don't really understand the historical significance of the day or what it means to our community now. So we have put together monthlong programming and booklists and other things that we're good at the library to help commemorate. So we have all of our book clubs, adult and kids in the month of June, feature black authors storytelling about black experiences and Juneteenth and specific. We also have several events. We have a special storytime with a Newbery and Caldecott Award winning author and illustrator. It's a mother and son duo, Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Boston Weatherford, who will be reading one of their books, and also answering questions and doing activities with attendees. And then we have the Walk and Reads which we’re really excited about. Walk and Reads are something we've been doing for several years now where you have a story lined along one side of a path in a park. You can read the story. And then when you get to the end, you turn around and there's a second story on the back of those signs. So we're excited to do that this year for Juneteenth. We have we kick off on June 11 at the Arts and Heritage Center for that event. And then we're moving after that event to Johnson County Square for the June 19 celebration. And we are featuring the books Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free. And then Change Sings by Amanda Gorman. We're really excited about that. We've got writing prompts for people to share what Juneteenth means to them and the community. We have tons of events going on just in our guide, we've marked it with a symbol. So if you check out our summer guide on our website, and also within our branches so you can see a full list of everything we have to offer. And then throughout the month of June, we'll be sharing book lists put together by our librarians throughout our website and social media.

Jody Hanson 14:44

Well, that's fantastic. The library have sure put a lot of thought into many different ways that people can learn and honor and celebrate. So that's fantastic. One quick note I wanted to make. We've mentioned the Johnson County Square a couple of times, so just wanted to make sure people knew where that was. That is where the old Johnson County Courthouse used to sit. So downtown Olathe, the corner of Santa Fe and Cherry Street is where you can find the county square. And speaking of finding things, we've given you a lot of detail today, a lot of information. And the good news is all of it is together in one place. So if you go online, and go to, you're going to find links to pretty much everything we talked about today. All of the events honoring Juneteenth that we're aware of, we've got links to where you can get more information. We've got information about the redline exhibit, we've got a lot of information about the library and its activities that Alyssa was talking about. And then also just in history, just some baseline history for people that might not know, talking about, you know, what Mary had given us history of, of the holiday, and other resources to more information about black history in Johnson County. So it's really good. It's a good central resource for information. So again, that's So my last question is for all of you who want to share, just why do you think it's important for these Juneteenth observances to take place and for people to attend them and recognize the holiday?

Mary McMurray 16:18

Well, I'll start as a historian and say that I think that when we learn from the past, we get to be inspired, empowered and emboldened to create a better future. And we see this story told time and time again, throughout Johnson County's history and throughout our nation's history. And so I think, any opportunity we have to engage with our history to engage with the idea of what freedom means, and to celebrate the expansion of those freedoms, I think that we should take that opportunity.

Jody Hanson 16:46

Great. Thank you again. Next…

Linnaia McKenzie 16:50

So in comparison to the Fourth of July, just wanted to call out that it is important to note that although black people did serve in the Revolutionary War, we did not actually obtain freedom from that fight. So it is almost exclusive a bit for black people to celebrate the Fourth of July. It does not represent us. So it is important to see Juneteenth celebrations happening at the same time, as we'll celebrate the Fourth of July because that is the freedom for us. It was Frederick Douglass, a famous abolitionist and writer in our country, a black American who said that what is the Fourth of July to the slave? So although we do not celebrate the Fourth the July as our Emancipation Day, it is important to know that we do have one. That's Juneteenth. And another important call out is the state of Kansas has yet to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. And so you all showing up and participating in these events will urge the state to go ahead and make Juneteenth a state-recognized holiday. So your participation, your attendance at these events, will really help to push forward that importance of making Juneteenth, a state holiday in the state of Kansas,

Kendra Neal Wright 18:05

I can go next to so Juneteenth to me is an important opportunity to take stock of the contributions of black Americans and the continued fight of human freedom everywhere because we know that those inequalities continue. And so it is I think, as the fellow panelists have said, a moment to look and learn from the past, but also the journey that we've traveled and the bright future ahead.

Jody Hanson 18:37

Well, I am just so grateful for this panel, not just for joining us today, but for all the work you've done for months and months and then also years and years before this year on helping our community honor this day. So thank you so much to Mary and Linnea and Alisa and Kendra, I'm thrilled that you all joined us today. Thanks to those who are listening and watching and again, if you would like to learn more about how you can be a part of Juneteenth attend one or several of these events, encourage you and others to visit So thanks so much and we appreciate you engaging on this topic.

Announcer 19:19

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening

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