Juneteenth in the Valley is honored in diverse ways

By Tom Maxedon
Published: Friday, June 17, 2022 - 4:45am
Updated: Friday, June 17, 2022 - 8:57am

Audio icon Download mp3 (7.11 MB)

Tom Maxedon/KJZZ
Clottee Hammons is curator of the Larry Wilson Gallery at Phoenix Center for the Arts and creative director of Emancipation Arts.

Last year, Juneteenth became a federal holiday. The name commemorates June 19, 1865 — the day that African American slaves in Texas received word they had been freed from enslavement two and half years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth means different things for different people.

For Clottee Hammons, it’s an opportunity to signpost art. She’s curator of the Larry Wilson Gallery at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Wilson was a painter and also worked in the medium of scratchboard, where images are engraved into surfaces. 

Hammons said it’s the only gallery in the city named after an African American artist. “He was very instrumental in establishing First Fridays and lots of other opportunities particularly for Black artists — we still are not frequently included in things — to show their art," Hammons said. 

Wilson died in 2010. Having been a lifelong friend of his, Hammons feels he would’ve seen the federalization of the holiday as a positive opportunity. “Larry was about community and he would have seen it as an opportunity to build community,” she said.

Hear Clottee Hammons interview with Tom Maxedon

The exhibitions in the gallery change each month, and Hammons walked around the room to describe some of the artwork, including hand-stitched embroidery by artist Cindy Dach, co-owner of Changing Hands Bookstore.

Cindy Dach
Greg Esser
Cindy Dach

“This one is, ‘Constellation of Thought.’ And, you look at this small figure with all of this going on in their mind. The varying tones and shades are interesting–-the little shadow underneath the figure. It’s really something that she invested herself in,” said Hammons who is also creative director of Emancipation Arts and conducts an annual reading every July.

It focuses on the history of chattel slavery in America and the Great Migration, a period when waves of African American families migrated out of the South to find work in other regions of the U.S., including Phoenix. 

That’s the focus of a Juneteenth celebration on Sunday afternoon led by the Arizona Historical Society and other partners at the Arizona Heritage Center in Tempe from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. 

Arizona Heritage Center
Entrance to the Arizona Heritage Center at 1300 N. College Ave. in Tempe.

“For me, when I hear that people are going to get a day off — a holiday in America, another holiday (laughs) — I thought it would be very important to do some unpacking and some learning about Juneteenth,” said Todd Bailey, special projects coordinator for the society.

He said, growing up, Juneteenth was not something his family celebrated. “My family came out here in the 1940s. Their concern was getting water, staying out of the heat and surviving out in this new Western territory. So, I had to learn about Juneteenth along with a lot of other people.”  

Bailey said he also worries about uneducated people or, even worse, overt racists co-opting the holiday. “Before we go into seeing people do Blackface on this holiday, because they’re not informed and educated, before something like that happens, I think it’s important that we educate people on this holiday before it becomes  just  a holiday,” he lamented.  

The event is free and will include performances, educational displays, speakers and a short film about the former Okemah neighborhood in Phoenix. It was established in the early 1900s by African Americans who migrated from the South. Bailey said it was wiped out in the 1960s after being rezoned by the city for commercial use.

Hear Todd Bailey interview with Tom Maxedon

HomeBase Poetry
Harold Branch III

This year, Juneteenth also coincides with another holiday.

“As far as a father and Juneteenth falling on Father’s Day, being a father is the most important thing in the game. For Juneteenth to fall on Father’s Day really, really means the world. It really feels like Black Father’s Day,” according to Harold Branch III, a spoken word poet who started HomeBase Poetry. The live mic events occur on the fourth Sunday of each month in Phoenix.

Branch is currently studying for his Ph.D. at Grand Canyon University. He asserts past studies that condemn the lack of Black fathers not having a central role in their children’s life are skewed. He believes using the metric of a couple not being married is flawed methodology and pointed to a 2013 study by the National Center for Health Statistics.

“They measured it by reading to your children, bath time and mealtime. [As far as] Bath time and mealtime, Black fathers above white and Latino fathers ranked the highest. Reading time was second,” said Branch.  

Hear Harold Branch III interview with Tom Maxedon

There are numerous Juneteenth events around the Valley. 






Queen Creek

More stories from KJZZ