UTAH (ABC4) – Utahns are celebrating Juneteenth around the state, but this year, Juneteenth has an extra special meaning as it is recognized as a state holiday for the first time — this a year after it was designated as the twelfth federal holiday in the United States.

Celebrated annually on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the date that Union soldiers brought news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas in 1865, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and two months after the Confederacy surrendered.

One of the events held was the thirty-third annual Utah Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival. Betty Sawyer, the director of the Project Success Collation and president of Ogden’s NAACP chapter, was overseeing the event and said it was incredible to see so many members of the community coming together.

“Today we are celebrating Juneteenth, Freedom Day, and that’s what it’s all about;  for us to be able to stop, pause, think about where we have come and where we are today,” she said.

Saturday, state officials and community organizers discussed the importance of Juneteenth at the Ogden Amphitheater. The day was filled with celebration – including food, presentations and live performances.  
Sawyer has been championing for Juneteenth to be recognized as a holiday on a federal and state level for over three decades, and says it’s wonderful to see it all come to fruition.

“I think one of the principle tenants of Juneteenth is not only about celebrating freedom, but for us to be able to come together, reconcile, think about what’ we’ve gone through that hampered us experiencing those freedoms,” she said.

House representative Sandra Hollins (D-Salt Lake City), the first African-American woman to serve in the Utah legislature, sponsored the bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday and says this is an important time to create meaningful conversations.

“Talk about your family history, talk about American history, talk about our heroes, our history and what we have done to not only build the United States, but to build this state up,” she said.

Governor Cox also spoke about education, emphasizing the significance of learning from one another.

“The things that bring us together are far greater than those that tear us apart,” he said.

And that recognizing Juneteenth is a step forward in the right direction.

“We want Utah to be a place where everyone feels welcome, where everyone feels like they’re part of the community, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not quite there yet but we’re getting closer every day,” he said.

The Freedom and Heritage Festival will continue Sunday. Learn more about how you can celebrate Juneteenth in Utah here.