June 19 celebrations focus on ending racial disparities

DALLAS (AP) — After Opal Lee drove hundreds to her hometown in Texas to celebrate June 19 this weekend, the 95-year-old black woman who successfully helped push the holidays to get a national recognition said it was important for people to 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 (4 kilometer) walk through Fort Worth symbolizes the 2 1/2 years that it took after President Abraham. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ends slavery in the Southern states so that slaves in Texas are freed.

A year after President Joe Biden signed legislation making June 19 the nation’s 12th federal holiday, people across the United States have come together at events filled with music, food and fireworks . The celebrations also focused on learning about history and addressing racial disparities. Many black 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.

« Great nations do not ignore their most painful moments, » Biden said in a statement on Sunday. “They face them to become stronger. And that’s what this great nation must continue to do.

A Gallup poll found Americans are more familiar with Juneteenth than they were last year, with 59% saying they know ‘a lot’ or ‘a little’ about the holiday, up from 37% a year ago. in May. The poll also found that support for integrating Juneteenth into school history lessons 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 the black community, 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 president of the board of directors of the Emancipation Park Conservancy and great-granddaughter of one of the park’s founders, Reverend Jack Yates.

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 to the role of green space.

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.

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, » he said. said Ramon Manning, chairman of the board of the Emancipation Park Conservancy.

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 the values ​​of freedom » and to think about how to challenge those things, Harris said.

Some of the city’s biggest celebrations, from Los Angeles to Chicago to Miami, not only touched on the history of slavery in America, but also celebrated black culture, business 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 she felt empowered during the state pageant, which is part of a national pageant that showcases and celebrates the academic and artistic achievements of women black.

It’s a « time to build sisterhood, it’s not about competing 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. »

The event featured performances by Kawambe-Omowale African Drum & Dance and speeches by politicians on how residents could get involved in local politics as children received balloon animals and ran around the play area. Eastlake Park games.

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

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

« The idea of ​​celebrating Juneteenth around our food culture is especially meaningful 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.

“Paying homage to him through our shared connection in the (African) diaspora is really powerful,” he said.

The event was held at the Weeksville Heritage Center, which was one of the largest black freed communities before the Civil War. Attendees were treated to guided tours of the grounds, which include historic homes and other structures once inhabited by the community’s founders.

« For a day dedicated to emancipation, it makes sense that people come together on this earth and nourish themselves not only with food, but also with spirit and soul, with emotion and love, » said Isa Saldaña, Head of Programs and Partnerships for Weeksville Heritage. Center.

“A big part of (Juneteenth) is learning to be free and feeling good doing it,” 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, native said he hopes the June 19 federal celebrations will raise awareness of Black American history in the United States.

« As each of us grows, we must grow in the awareness that we have suffered much longer than they tell us we have, » 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 contributed to this report. Mumphrey reported from Phoenix and is a member of the Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on https://twitter.com/cheymumph.

Jamie Stengle and Cheyanne Mumphrey, Associated Press


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