Juneteenth Celebrations Highlight Ending Racial Inequalities

After Opal Lee walked hundreds through her Texas hometown to celebrate Juneteenth this weekend, the 95-year-old black woman who successfully helped bring the holiday to national recognition, said it’s important that people understand the history behind it. to learn.

“We need to know so people can heal from it and never let it happen again,” said Lee, whose 4-mile walk through Fort Worth symbolizes the 2 1/2 years it took after President Abraham’s Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation ends. slavery in the southern states so that the enslaved people in Texas can be freed.

A year after President Joe Biden signed legislation that made June 19 the country’s 12th federal holiday, people across the US gathered at events filled with music, food and fireworks. The celebrations also emphasized learning about history and addressing racial inequalities. Many black people celebrated the day just as they did before any formal recognition.

Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to order freedom for the enslaved people of the state—two months after the Confederacy surrendered in the Civil War.

“Major countries are not ignoring their most painful moments,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday. “They confront them to get stronger. And that’s what this great nation must continue to do.”

A Gallup poll found that Americans know Juneteenth better than they did last year, with 59% saying they knew “a lot” or “some” about the holiday, compared to 37% a year ago in May. The poll also found that support for making Juneteenth part of school history classes rose from 49% to 63%.

Still, many states have been slow to designate it as a public holiday. Lawmakers in Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and elsewhere failed to pass proposals this year that would have closed state offices and given most of their public employees paid time off.

Texas celebrations included one at a Houston park established 150 years ago by a group of formerly enslaved men who bought the land. According to the conservationist’s website, it was at times the only public park in the area available to the black community.

“They wanted a place where they could not only celebrate their celebrations, but where they could do other things as a community all year round,” said Jacqueline Bostic, vice chair of the board of the Emancipation Park Conservancy and the great-granddaughter of one of them. the park’s founders, Rev. Jack Yates.

This weekend’s celebration included performances by The Isley Brothers and Kool & The Gang. In the weeks leading up to Juneteenth, discussions were held in the park on topics ranging from health care to policing and the role of green spaces.

Participants included Robert Stanton, the first African-American to serve as director of the National Park Service, and Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, who grew up in the historically black neighborhood where the park is located and whose murder by a police officer from Minneapolis two years ago sparked protests around the world.

As more people learn about Juneteenth, “we want to take that and use this moment as a resource to educate people about history and not just about the history of African America, but also about American history,” said Ramon Manning, president. of the board of directors of the Emancipation Park Conservancy.

Fort Worth celebrated the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, named after the black cowboy credited with introducing bulldogging or ox wrestling. The rodeo’s president and CEO, Valeria Howard Cunningham, said children are often surprised that there are real black cowboys and cowgirls out there.

More young people have become involved in planning events in Juneteenth, said Torrina Harris, program director of the Nia Cultural Center in Galveston, the holiday’s birthplace.

Juneteenth provides an opportunity to think about “the various practices or norms that contradict the values ​​of liberty” and think about how those things can be challenged, Harris said.

Some of the biggest city parties from Los Angeles to Chicago to Miami not only covered the history of slavery in America, but also celebrated black culture, business, and food.

In Phoenix, hundreds of people gathered for an annual event in Eastlake Park, a focal point for civil rights in Arizona. Recently crowned Miss Juneteenth Arizona used her platform to speak about how she felt empowered in the state election, which is part of a nationwide competition that showcases and celebrates the academic and artistic achievements of black women.

It’s a “sister-building moment. It’s not about competing against each other for a crown, it’s about celebrating the intelligence of black women and staying true to ourselves,” said Shaundrea Norman, 17, whose family is from Texas and grew up knowing Juneteenth .

Kendall McCollun, 15-year-old teenager Miss Juneteenth Arizona, said the holiday is about the fight for social justice.

“We have to fight twice as hard to get the same freedoms that our ancestors fought for hundreds of years ago,” she said. “It is important that we continue to fight for my generation, and this day is important to celebrate how far we have come.”

The event included performances by Kawambe-Omowale African Drum & Dance and speeches from politicians on ways residents could get involved in local politics, while children received balloon animals and ran through the Eastlake Park playground.

In New York City, Juneteenth was celebrated across the five boroughs, with events drawing crowds exceeding organizers’ expectations. More than 7,000 people attended a food festival in downtown Brooklyn hosted Saturday and Sunday by Black-Owned Brooklyn, a digital publication and directory of local black businesses.

Although Juneteenth is a black American holiday, the festival’s organizers said they deliberately wanted to include cuisines and flavors from the Caribbean and West African countries. On Sunday, long lines formed from nearly all the food stalls, while a DJ played soulful house music for festively dressed attendees.

“The idea of ​​celebrating Juneteenth around our food culture makes a lot of sense here in Brooklyn, where we have so many black people living here from all over the world,” said Tayo Giwa, co-creator of Black-Owned Brooklyn.

“In tribute to the connection through our shared connection in the (African) diaspora, it’s really powerful,” he said.

The event was held at the Weeksville Heritage Center, which was one of the largest black communities for freedmen before the Civil War. Attendees were given tours of the grounds, which include historic homes and other buildings once occupied by the community’s founders.

“For a day dedicated to emancipation, it only makes sense to let people gather on this land and feed each other not only with food, but also with spirit and soul, emotion and love,” says Isa Saldaña, program and partnership manager for the Weeksville Heritage Center.

“A big part of (Juneteenth) is about learning to be free and feeling good about doing that,” she said.

Jeffrey Whaley Sr. attended the festival with his three children on Sunday, which was also Father’s Day. The Staten Island, New York resident said he was hopeful that Juneteenth’s federal celebrations would raise awareness of the Black American story in the US.

“As each of us grows, we need to grow in the awareness that we have suffered much longer than they tell us we did,” Whaley said. “It is our duty to our ancestors to ensure that we educate and improve ourselves in this country, because this country owes us a lot.”

Associated Press writer Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee, and Aaron Morrison in New York City contributed to this report. Mumphrey reported from Phoenix and is a member of The Associated Press’s racing and ethnicity team.

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