Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted in 1863, many Southern states ignored it on purpose. It wasn’t until two years later that soldiers marched into Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865 with “General Orders No. 3” to mandate compliance to the law. We now celebrate this day as Juneteenth —a powerful symbol of national freedom. We spoke with Joel Harris of Joel Harris Design Group and Vice President for AIGA Arizona in Tucson, about his personal connection to Juneteenth:
What drew you to this celebration initially—when did you first learn about Juneteenth and want to bring attention to it through your design work?
I first heard about the holiday when I attended the Tucson Juneteenth festival (ig: @tucsonjuneteenth) in the Summer of 2015, when I first moved to Tucson. I was, at first, saddened that I had never heard about it in all of my years of being in school, and wanted to learn as much as I could about this significant day. I was really shocked that it wasn’t a national holiday—hopefully that will be changing after what we are seeing happening right now in our country. With the newfound knowledge I had, I wanted to design something to honor the significance of this historic event. That’s when the idea of creating a t-shirt came about. Growing up in the East, and moving to Tucson where the African American population is about 3.6 percent, I was craving connection to a familiar community. Juneteenth was my first exposure to the black community here in Tucson. After attending the event and seeing all the various vendors that were there, I knew I needed to be a part of this somehow, so I designed my own Juneteenth artwork and became a vendor in 2018. When the design for the shirt was completed, I worked with local screen printer Cream Print and Design. After the success in selling t-shirts, I expanded to offer tote bags.
Because of COVID concerns, the festival is being postponed until next year which will be the 50th anniversary of celebrating Juneteenth in Tucson.
What were your personal highlights of the Juneteenth festival last year? I understand it was the biggest ever and was held at the Tucson Convention Center.
Last year the festival was held at the Tucson Convention Center for the first time. Yes, in cool air conditioning! There was a Black History 101 Mobile Museum that was really incredible, with all kinds of historical artifacts on display. Some of them were really jarring, as they showed the public mockery, hatred and exclusion of African Americans. These artifacts were common in the marketing of products, magazines, signage, etc. It’s sad to think that the very industry I’m still working in was complicit in allowing these false caricatures to continue and fuel negative stereotypes about African Americans. As creatives, it is important to steward the responsibility of our work to ensure that what we create preserves the dignity of all people and that their humanity is not degraded. Most recently, major brands are apologizing for the use of stereotypical caricatures and taking steps to change their names and logos.
“It’s sad to think that the very industry I’m still working in was complicit in allowing these false caricatures to continue and fuel negative stereotypes about African Americans.”
From your perspective, how are people mostly responding in Tucson to the explosion in civil rights protests around the world? Have you noticed any voices that have come to the forefront in Tucson, either in general and /or in the design community?
The Tucson community has and is coming together over the last several weeks to stand against racism and hatred. There have been a mix of reactions and movements happening: peaceful protesting, not-so-peaceful protesting, prayer vigils, etc. Overall, people are done and fed up with the racial injustices they are seeing and want to see change occur, starting locally. In the business community, there is a team of people made up of Black entrepreneurs that have organized a list of Black-owned Tucson businesses to support. An online event to highlight these businesses called Blax Friday (ig:@blaxfriday) took place on June 26.
What is going on at Joel Harris Design Co. that you are excited about lately?
I’m excited about forming great partnerships with other creative entrepreneurs in Tucson. To nerd out for a bit, I’ve been able to draw for fun and I can thank the pandemic for allowing things to slow down. It’s been refreshing! With all that’s happening in our country it’s a great time to be a designer, because there is so much we can bring awareness to, through our design work.
“We succeed as one. We evolve as one—
witnessing, feeling, and processing this critical moment in time.”
AIGA AZ celebrates Juneteenth and stands with our community to promote diversity and inclusion in the design profession here in Arizona. See what is on the agenda this year.