SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – President Joe Biden signed a bill Thursday that was passed by Congress to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, just in time for the 156th anniversary on Saturday. The Senate approved the bill unanimously. In the House, only 14 Republicans opposed the legislation — many representing states that were part of the slave-holding Confederacy in the 19th century.
Juneteenth, which is observed annually on June 19th, started once the last group of slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas after the end of the Civil War in 1865. Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops arrived with the news. This was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation came out that freed slaves in the South.
Although the now-freed people began celebrating Juneteenth the following year in 1866, they still faced violent backlash. One example was Confederate soldiers who harassed, lynched, and murdered them. By the 20th century, the Jim Crow laws which enacted segregation in public spaces were in effect and enforced a new form of oppression on Black people.
Experts say that the national reckoning on racial injustice this past year following George Floyd’s murder helped set the stage for Juneteenth to become the first new federal holiday since 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created. However according to a recent Gallup poll, approximately 60 percent of Americans don’t know or know little information about Juneteenth is.
Shawn Newell, Vice President of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch and Darlene McDonald, Author and Social Activist joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion about Juneteenth. They discussed the history of the celebration, the continued fight for freedom and equality that came after the event, why they think the majority of Americans still don’t know about Juneteenth.
Newell and McDonald also discussed whether there’s a concern that the holiday could be commoditized, their thoughts about the attacks on Critical Race Theory, their hopes on educational efforts on African American history, and the work our country still needs to do for racial justice and equity.
Daud Mumin, organizer of Juneteenth Utah shared what it was like to grow up in Salt Lake City as a first-generation Somali-Muslim American, how he’s reflecting on Juneteenth this year, what work needs to be done to educate more Americans about Juneteenth, why it’s important to support and recognize the Black community in Utah, and the details about the festivities taking place this weekend.
A Juneteenth celebration will be held Saturday, June 19th at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City from 4 to 9 p.m. The event will consist of a black party, food trucks, live performances, speeches, music, dance, and more. Organizers say the event is intended to provide a space for healing, love, and support.