Juneteenth: An American Holiday with Community Ties

Perhaps you noticed when we published the 2020-21 calendar that Annie Wright Schools are recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday. Though not a federal holiday, yet, today Juneteenth is recognized in 48 states and Washington, D.C., and Washington State declared it a paid state holiday in April of this year. In 2021, Juneteenth, short for “June Nineteenth,” will be observed on Friday, June 18, since this year it falls on a Saturday. Originated in 1865, and also known as Emancipation Day, June 19 is when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that enslaved Black people were free by executive decree, the last of the former Confederate territories to receive the news. While the holiday traditionally commemorates Black American freedom, today it also emphasizes much more—assessing, learning, reflection and, of course, celebration. 

Omari Maulana, who recently joined AWS both as a parent to an incoming Upper School for Girls Blue Tie ’24 and as Human Resource Manager, has familial ties to Juneteenth. Omari’s great-great-great-grandfather, Giles Cotton, was enslaved in Limestone County, just north of Galveston, during the founding of Juneteenth. After emancipation, Giles served as a farmer and later was elected to the House of the 12th Texas Legislature for the Republican party. 

George Rain Durham, Omari’s grandfather and Giles’ great-great-grandson, graduated from Prairie View A&M University in Texas with a STEM degree in agriculture. He later migrated to the Pacific Northwest during World War II and was stationed at Fort Lewis. The GI Bill provided George the opportunity to attend the University of Puget Sound where he earned his Master of Education. He went on to teach at the first magnet school in the country, McCarver Elementary in Hilltop. George was later appointed as principal—only the third African American principal hired by Tacoma Public Schools. He was also close friends with local legends, educator Dolores Silas, for whom Tacoma’s Wilson High will be renamed effective July 1, 2021; Harold Moss, Tacoma’s first Black Mayor; and Jack Tanner, the first Black federal judge in the Northwest. Omari shared that, “These familial ties evolved into rich local history, a passion for education, and now, the opportunity to fulfill a family legacy here at Annie Wright.” 

So, what can you do to commemorate this historical day? “Take the day to read, reflect on our history, explore emancipation in the U.S., consider how we move the ball forward in our community, or learn about the aforementioned local heroes Dolores Silas, Harold Moss and Jack Tanner (amongst many other s/heroes right here in Tacoma),” shares Omari. 

For our avid readers, Omari recommends Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, which is said to shine “a revealing light on our unspoken caste system and will change the way you think about social inequality.” There are also some great recommendations for readers of all ages here and here. Or, if a Netflix binge session sounds more your style, then check out High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America. Of course, there are also many festivals and events taking place locally, which a quick Google search will unveil. A great place to start is the Northwest African American Museum and their Juneteenth Week. Regardless of how you choose to spend your Juneteenth, we wish you some mindful moments full of reflection and hope. 


Annie Wright Schools
827 North Tacoma Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98403

Translate this site

Founded in Tacoma, Washington, in 1884, Annie Wright Schools serve students from age three through high school. Annie Wright Lower and Middle Schools offer coed programs in Preschool through Grade 8, while separate Upper Schools for girls and boys offer day and boarding options in Grades 9 through 12. Annie Wright is proud to be an International Baccalaureate World School.