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Juneteenth Through The Eyes Of A Nine Year Old — And Her Dad

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Phillip Thompson
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Friday, June 19 will be the 155th anniversary of a unique moment in history when, two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee conceded defeat in the Civil War, enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas were told they were free. Now known as Juneteenth, the holiday combines June and 19; and is also sometimes called Juneteenth Independence Day or Emancipation Day.

Following this year's growing unrest over racial injustice, there is renewed interest in a day that celebrates freedom.

In anticipation of the 2020 edition of Juneteenth, Morning Edition host George Prentice visits with Phillip Thompson, executive director of the Idaho Black History Museum and a very special guest: Thompson's nine-year-old daughter Zaida.

“I want to be a paramedic. A firewoman, a policewoman, an artist, architect engineer, builder, and somebody who holds fish, like someone who works at the aquarium … and a scientist.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning, I'm George Prentice. Friday, June 19th is, well, Juneteenth. You've heard of Juneteenth, but do you know why we celebrate the anniversary of June 19th? Well, to help us out this morning, we have Phillip Thompson, Executive Director of the Idaho Black History Museum. He joins us via Zoom this morning. Good morning.

PHILLIP THOMPSON: Good morning, sir. Thank you for having me.

PRENTICE: And Philip, we've got a special guest. Could you introduce us?

PHILLIP: Absolutely. I have with us today my pride and joy, Zaida Thompson, AKA Junior. Say, "Hello," Junior.

ZAIDA THOMPSON: Hi.

PRENTICE: Hi Zaida. Zaida, can I ask how old you are?

ZAIDA: Nine.

PRENTICE: And when's your birthday?

ZAIDA: March 24th, 2011.

PRENTICE: Okay. Zaida, do you know what Juneteenth is?

ZAIDA: Yeah.

PRENTICE: Well, what can you tell us about Juneteenth?

ZAIDA: Well, Juneteenth is a special holiday that [celebrates] the last group of black slaves were freed in Texas.

PRENTICE: Phillip, this year's celebration, it resonates in new ways in 2020, doesn't it?

PHILLIP: It really does. So, one thing we've done, Junior and I, is try to break it down to a level that a kid could understand and more importantly, they care to listen. And so, we've cheated and may used comics trying to tell the national narrative of the, hey, the Emancipation Proclamation, yes, legally freed the slaves, but the entire country didn't necessarily follow the rules in those orders. It took military introduction or insurrection, so to speak, to really stop the practice of slavery in Texas and which is why we celebrate the day, which is indicative of our nation as it stands currently that we have these mandatory orders of stay home. We're trying to stop the spread of a virus to keep all parties protected and you have those that are outwardly refuse. And then again, it's disproportionately affecting the black community. We're the ones suffering when people choose to ignore the orders of our government for the benefit of everyone.

PRENTICE: Zaida, what's it been like being cooped up in the house all this time and away from school?

ZAIDA: Well, I kind of like school so I miss school, but now that it's, I think it's summer break, yeah it's summer break, and then we're not in school. Sometimes I still play with my friends, and yeah.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about dreams, Zaida. What's your dream? What do you want to do someday?

ZAIDA: I want to be a paramedic. A firewoman, a policewoman, an artist, architect engineer, builder, and somebody who holds fish, like someone who works at the aquarium.

PHILLIP: She has aspirations. We try to expose her to a little bit of everything.

ZAIDA: And a scientist.

PRENTICE: Phillip, what's your dream for Zaida?

PHILLIP: Mostly, we'll just to allow her to be able to pursue her dreams. I mean, it was said that there's an old quote from James Baldwin that, "What we want as the people is the same thing you want as a people." We want our kids to be able to be free, and to play, and to not to be defined by you. I want her to be able to pursue whatever it is she wants to do. I've told her, "Yeah, you can be a scientist on Tuesday and then choose that you want to be professional bass player on Thursday." All we want is the right to be free, and to thrive, and allow us to achieve. And that's all I want for her is her to be able to pursue whatever it is her heart or her mind desires at that time.

PRENTICE: Zaida, what do you do for fun?

ZAIDA: I play in my science lab. I play in my ball pit. Sometimes I watch TV or the Pad and I play with my Legos.

PHILLIP: We go for runs.

ZAIDA: We go for runs, and bike rides, and walks, and we play with the kids.

PRENTICE: Well, I would be remiss if I didn't mention your pretty fabulous grandmother. Our listeners know her as State Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb, but she's your grandma. Yes?

ZAIDA: Yeah.

PRENTICE: Pretty amazing woman don't you think?

ZAIDA: Yep.

PHILLIP: Junior has told me when we go down to the Senate that she thinks that she might want to be a Senator one day, or just the other day, she met Governor Little and she was pretty impressed and thought he was pretty cool.

PRENTICE: Well, that can't happen soon enough as far as I'm concerned.

PHILLIP: Yeah.

PRENTICE: So let's put her on the fast track.

PHILLIP: Absolutely.

PRENTICE: Zaida, Happy Juneteenth. Philip, Happy Juneteenth.

PHILLIP: Thank you, sir. Hope all is well with you and yours.

PRENTICE: Thank you, Zaida.

ZAIDA: You're welcome.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

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