Major League Soccer and its clubs are commemorating Juneteenth this weekend with several initiatives, including jerseys with special numbers that will be auctioned off.
The initiatives were announced on Thursday, June 17, in advance of games to be over the weekend of June 19, or Juneteenth. Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, “to inform enslaved African-Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended,” the New York Times wrote last year. “General Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two and a half years earlier on Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.”
The most visible aspect during the weekend’s MLS fixtures will be the special numbers on player jerseys, which were designed by Indianapolis artist Israel Solomon in collaboration with MLS and Black Players for Change.
“The jersey numbers – presented in a bold, empowering and visually attractive sharp-line red, black and green pattern – are inspired by Black culture and symbolize ancestry, liberation and cultural vibrancy,” reads MLS’s website.
Black Players for Change (BPC) is an organization of Black MLS players, coaches and staff seeking to increase inclusion in soccer, the website also says. It was established on Juneteenth 2020.
“This league-wide recognition is a wonderful celebration of freedom made possible by our deep collaboration with Black Players for Change,” said MLS executive vice-president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer Sola Winley in a press release. “It was our collective hope to honor this significant moment in American history by celebrating the freedom fighters of our past as well as acknowledging the freedom fighters of today that continue to shine a light on the need for equality, prosperity and freedom for all. In the span of only one year, we have ideated together to take meaningful actions for change both inside and outside of our sport.”
Game-worn jerseys with the special numbers will then be auctioned off in three phases over the next month through MLSauctions.com. The jerseys will be shipped in commemorative boxes that illustrate the history and importance of Juneteenth, as well as paying homage to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Proceeds will benefit organizations that uplift Black communities in MLS markets.
“We helped build this initiative to bridge the gap between generations celebrating Juneteenth and everyone who is still being introduced to this day,” said Toronto FC defender and BPC executive director Justin Morrow. “We hope that these jerseys will help shed light on the historical significance of Juneteenth, which is necessary context for where we are in society today. Understanding Black History is imperative to building a better society.”
In addition, the Black National Anthem (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”) will be played before every MLS match this weekend. Several clubs are also hosting their own events to mark Juneteenth.
Photos courtesy Major League Soccer