(AP) — Parades, picnics and lessons in history marked Juneteenth celebrations Saturday in the U.S., a day that carried even more significance after Congress and President Joe Biden created a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery.
A new national holiday was “really awesome. It’s starting to recognize the African American experience,” said Detroit artist Hubert Massey, 63. “But we still have a long way to go.”
In Detroit, which is 80% Black, students from University Prep Art & Design High School dodged rain to repaint Massey’s block-long message, “Power to the People,” which was created last year on downtown Woodward Avenue.
The ‘o’ in “Power” was a red fist in memory of George Floyd and other victims of excessive force by police, Massey said.
“We did the original,” said Olivia Jones, 15, leaning on a long paint roller. “It’s important that we return and share that same energy.”
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. It was about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Southern states.
Biden on Thursday signed a bill creating Juneteenth National Independence Day. Since June 19 fell on a Saturday, the government observed the holiday Friday. At least nine states have designated it in law as an official paid state holiday, all but one acting after Floyd, a Black man, was killed last year in Minneapolis.
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In Galveston, the birthplace of the holiday, celebrations included the dedication of a 5,000-square-foot mural titled “Absolute Equality.” Opal Lee, 94, who was at Biden’s side when he signed the bill, returned to Fort Worth, Texas, to lead a 2.5-mile walk symbolizing the 2 1/2 years it took for slaves in Texas to find out they’d been freed.
Officials in Bristol, Rhode Island, unveiled a marker that describes the seaport’s role in the slave trade. The marker was placed at the Linden Place Museum, a mansion built by Gen. George DeWolf, who was a slave trader. The Rhode Island Slave History Medallion organization raises public awareness about the state’s role in slavery.
Food, live music, games and poetry readings were on the agenda at a park in Kansas City, Missouri, at an event organized by Black Rainbow, a relatively new group advocating for oppressed people.
“Given the last year of trauma, brutality and grief that the Black community suffered on a daily basis, it is essential to our survival that we make moments for joy, for love and for celebrating our resilience,” said co-founder Ryan Sorrell.
Hundreds of people gathered for a free concert in New York’s Times Square organized by The Broadway League, the trade group for the Broadway entertainment industry.
A Juneteenth parade was held in Evanston, Illinois, a Chicago suburb that is using tax revenue from marijuana sales to offer housing grants to Black residents for past discrimination and the lingering effects of slavery.
New York civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton offered a tough message during a speech at his National Action Network, saying Senate Republicans who voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a federal holiday should also support Democratic bills that change voting laws and make it easier to crack down on rogue police officers.
“The celebration of Juneteenth is not a party. … The way to deal with Juneteenth now is to deal with where race is in 2021,” Sharpton said.