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Quills & Queues: Full day of activities planned to mark Juneteenth

Oregon Shakespeare Festival will celebrate the annual Juneteenth holiday on Monday, June 18, with a theme entitled “Activate: A Roll Call and Response.” OSF is billing the event as a request for reflection on our voice in the conversation, with a particular emphasis on “(exploring) where our community and nation still need more work.”

The event will kick off with a round-table discussion panel led by Kamilah Long, OSF’s manager of capital campaigns and leadership alliance, as well as a longtime champion for the Ashland School District. The discussion is entitled “Black Joy and Pain: Why be an Ally?” At 1 p.m. in the Black Swan Theatre, there will be a reading of Kevin Douglas’ play “Plantation!” which deals with a Texas matriarch and her realization that the family homestead has a complicated racial history. The reading is directed by Christiana Clark, a five-season member of OSF’s acting company who was herself a victim of racial profiling in Ashland’s Railroad District in 2016, when a local racist rode up to her on a bicycle and assured her that the Klu Klux Klan was “alive and well” in Southern Oregon. Clark has become a prominent face in the festival’s ongoing effort to counteract the bigotry and soft racism that is a subversive but pervasive presence in the culture of the Rogue Valley.

Recent incidents of racist pamphleteering and emboldened recruitment tactics in white power circles in the Valley — in Medford and White City, but also in Ashland, where someone posted flyers around town showing Nazi imagery — make the Juneteenth celebration all the more important as a reminder of America’s racist past. Juneteenth is the oldest-known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major-General Gordon Granger led his Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in states in rebellion took effect on Jan. 1, 1863. Six months later, with ratification of the 13th Amendment on Dec. 6, 1865, all slaves were freed.

This particular Juneteenth will also celebrate the life of longtime OSF actor G. Valmont Thomas, who died of cancer this past December at the age of 58. An exhibit honoring Thomas’ life and legacy will be on display in the lobby of the Black Swan Theatre for patrons to visit before the Douglas reading.

There will be a grand finale variety show (as is the tradition for this holiday at OSF) on the Courtyard Stage at 5:30 p.m. The Courtyard Stage is located “on the bricks” outside of the Angus Bowmer Theatre. The program for the show, which runs for about an hour, will include spoken word and dance, visual arts and theater. The program is the result of the combined efforts of numerous OSF company members and was pioneered by Clark.

This is OSF’s 20th year of celebrating the Juneteenth holiday. They began honoring the date in 1998 with a small fundraising barbecue hosted by actor Aldo Billingslea, now a preeminent theater director, actor and playwright in the Bay Area who also lectures at Santa Clara University, where he teaches American Theatre from the Black Perspective and has a longtime academic fascination with the work of August Wilson.

As always, OSF’s event is open to everyone. The event will take place at various sites around the OSF campus at 15 South Pioneer St. in Ashland. For more information, visit www.osfashland.org/en/productions/activities-and-events/juneteenth.aspx.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.

Jeffrey Gillespie
Christiana Clark (center) leads the ensemble of performers at 2015's Juneteenth Variety Show. Photo by Julie Cortez, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.