After Opal Lee drove hundreds to her hometown in Texas to celebrate June 19, the 95-year-old black woman who successfully helped push the holiday to gain national recognition said it was important that people learn the story behind it.
“We need to know so people can heal from this and never let this happen again,” said Lee, whose 2 1/2 mile walk through Fort Worth symbolizes the 2 1/2 years it took for President Abraham Lincoln’s application to Texas. Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the Southern States.
A year after US President Joe Biden signed legislation last year making June 19 the nation’s 12th federal holiday, Americans across the country came together this weekend at events filled with music, food and fireworks. The celebrations also focused on learning from the past and addressing racial disparities. Many people celebrated the day as they did before any official recognition.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to order the freedom of slaves from the state – two months after the Confederacy surrendered during the civil war.
A Gallup poll found Americans know the day better than they did a year ago, with 59% saying they know ‘a lot’ or ‘a little’ about the holidays, up from 37% a year ago. one year old in May. The poll also found that support for integrating June 19 into the history taught in schools rose from 49% to 63%.
Yet many states have been slow to designate it as a holiday. Lawmakers in Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and elsewhere have not advanced proposals this year that would have closed state offices and given most of their public employees paid vacations.
The celebrations in Texas included one in a Houston park created 150 years ago by a group of former slaves who purchased the land. At times, it was the only public park available in the area for black people, according to the reservation’s website.
“They wanted a place where not only could they celebrate their birthday, but they could do other things during the year as a community,” said Jacqueline Bostic, vice chair of the Emancipation Park board. Conservancy and great-granddaughter of one of the park’s founders, the Reverend Jack Yates.
“A tool to educate people”
This weekend’s celebration included performances from The Isley Brothers and Kool & The Gang. In the weeks leading up to Juneteenth, the park hosted discussions on topics ranging from health care to policing in communities of color to the role of green spaces.
As more and more people learn about Juneteenth, “we want to harness that and use this moment as a tool to educate people about history and not just African-American history, but American history,” said Ramon Manning, chairman of the board of the Emancipation Park Conservancy.
Attendees included Robert Stanton, the first African American to serve as director of the National Park Service, and Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, who grew up in the historically black neighborhood where the park is located and whose murder by a Minneapolis police officer two years ago sparked protests around the world.
In Fort Worth, celebrations included the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, named after the black cowboy who is credited with introducing bulldogging or steer wrestling. Rodeo president and CEO Valeria Howard Cunningham said kids often express surprise that there are real black cowboys and cowgirls.
More and more young people have become involved in planning the June 19 events, said Torrina Harris, program director of the Nia Cultural Center in Galveston, the birthplace of the holiday.
Juneteenth provides an opportunity to reflect on “the different practices or norms that contradict freedom values” and think about how to challenge those things, Harris said.
Some of the biggest celebrations in the United States not only touch on the history of slavery in America, but also celebrate black culture, businesses and food.
In Phoenix, hundreds gathered for an annual event in Eastlake Park, which has been a focal point for civil rights in Arizona. The recently crowned Miss Juneteenth Arizona used her platform to talk about how empowered she felt with her fellow black women during the state pageant, which is part of a national pageant that showcases and celebrates academic achievement and arts of black women.
It’s “a time to build sisterhood, it’s not about fighting for a crown, it’s about celebrating the intelligence of black women and staying true to ourselves,” Shaundrea Norman said. , 17, whose family is originally from Texas and grew up knowing Juneteenth.
Kendall McCollun, 15-year-old Teen Miss Juneteenth Arizona, said the holiday was about fighting for social justice.
“We have to fight twice as hard to have the same freedoms that our ancestors fought for hundreds of years ago,” she said. “It’s important that we keep fighting for my generation, and this day is important to celebrate how far we’ve come.”