Johnson County to celebrate Juneteenth

Red, green and yellow stripes and black clenched fist

By Erin Chambers and Gerald Hay

Beginning this year, Johnson County has designated Juneteenth as a standard county holiday, recognizing the significance of freedom for all.

Last October, the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted on adding Juneteenth as a county holiday. Traditionally celebrated on June 19, Juneteenth will be first honored as a holiday by Johnson County on Monday, June 20, since Juneteenth falls on a Sunday in 2022.

A blend of the words June and nineteenth, Juneteenth is the oldest African American holiday observance in the nation.

The date (June 19) marks the day when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to ensure the freedom of all enslaved people in the state. The arrival occurred two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered in Appomattox, Virginia.

Several local events will take place to commemorate Juneteenth. Some will be organized by Johnson County Government, and others by community groups and cities.

Juneteenth commemoration at the Arts and Heritage Center
Saturday, June 11, 10 a.m. to noon Music, art, food, free admission to the Johnson County Museum and special exhibit, REDLINED: cities, suburbs and segregation. Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave, Overland Park

Johnson County Library events
Take a walk, read a book. The Johnson County Library’s Walk and Read gives families the opportunity to engage with literature while getting their steps in, and a Juneteenth-themed display will be posted this summer. Stories related to the freedom of all will be up June 13-30 at Civic Center Park, 250 E. Santa Fe St., Olathe.

Johnson County Government observance
Plans are in the works for a community observance on Sunday, June 19, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Johnson County Square (Santa Fe and Cherry Street in downtown Olathe.) The public event will include community speakers, historical readings and musical performers. More details will be provided on the county website at https://www.jocogov.org/juneteenth.

Featured speaker
Virginia Sewing, Overland Park, will serve as the featured speaker at the county’s Juneteenth event at Johnson County Square. Her late husband, Donald, was a real estate agent who led the effort to integrate northeast Johnson County in the mid-1960s.

The Sewings were one of the first Black families to move into northeast Johnson County when they bought a home in Fairway. This was an area that the J.C. Nichols Company had developed in the 1930s with racial deed restrictions (legal restrictions on individual properties that prohibited Black families from purchasing or occupying homes there. Don Sewing worked to integrate other suburban neighborhoods, helping Black families purchase homes in Merriam, Prairie Village and Leawood. He died in 2007.

In winning a seat on the Shawnee Mission School Advisory Council in 1971, Virginia Sewing was the first Black woman to win an election in Johnson County.

In March 2022, the Sewings were honored with the Civil Rights/Fair Housing Pioneer Award for their work in advancing housing equity, presented at the Prairie Village “I Have a Dream Celebration.”