It has been 159 years since former American President Abraham Lincoln issued Emancipation Proclamation declaring "that all persons held as slaves ... are, and henceforward shall be free."
With street parties, the trumpets and drums of marching bands, speeches, and a few political rallies, people across the United States have celebrated Juneteenth, a jubilee commemorating the end of the legal enslavement of Black Americans. As the U.S. marks only the second federally recognized Juneteenth, Black Americans living overseas have embraced the holiday as a day of reflection and an opportunity to educate people in their host countries on Black history.
President Joe Biden moved quickly last year to federally recognize the day Black Americans have been celebrating since the last enslaved people were told they were.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, 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 had surrendered in the Civil War.
"Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments,” Biden said in a statement Sunday. "They confront them to grow stronger. And that is what this great nation must continue to do.”
In a proclamation on Friday, Biden remarked on the 10 people slain in a racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, on May 14.
"We must stand together against white supremacy and show that bigotry and hate have no safe harbor in America," the proclamation said.
Atlanta began with a festival in the heart of the city on Friday and parades beginning at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. preached.
Some of the largest city 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.
A Gallup Poll found that Americans are more familiar with Juneteenth than they were last year, with 59% saying they knew "a lot” or "some” about the holiday compared with 37% a year ago in May. The poll also found that support for making Juneteenth part of school history lessons increased from 49% to 63%.
Yet many states have been slow to designate it as an official holiday. Lawmakers in Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and elsewhere failed to advance proposals this year that would have closed state offices and given most of their public employees paid time off.
Celebrations in Texas included one at a Houston park created 150 years ago by a group of formerly enslaved men who bought the land. At times, it was the only public park available in the area to the Black community, according to the conservancy’s website.
"They wanted a place that they could not only have their celebration, but they could do other things during the year as a community,” said Jacqueline Bostic, vice chairwoman of the board for the Emancipation Park Conservancy and the great-granddaughter of one of the park's founders, the Rev. Jack Yates.
Participants 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 killing by a Minneapolis police officer two years ago sparked protests worldwide.
As 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,” said Ramon Manning, chairperson of the board for the Emancipation Park Conservancy.
In Fort Worth, celebrations included the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, named for the Black cowboy who is credited with introducing bulldogging or steer wrestling. The rodeo’s president and CEO, Valeria Howard Cunningham, said children often express surprise that there are real Black cowboys and cowgirls.
More young people have become involved in planning Juneteenth events, said Torrina Harris, program director for the Nia Cultural Center in Galveston, the holiday's birthplace.
Juneteenth provides an opportunity to reflect on "the different practices or norms that contradict the values of freedom” and consider how to challenge those things, Harris said.
In Phoenix, hundreds of people gathered for an annual event at Eastlake Park, which has been a focal point for civil rights in Arizona. The recently crowned Miss Juneteenth Arizona used her platform to speak about how she felt empowered during the state pageant, which is part of a nationwide competition that showcases and celebrates the academic and artistic achievements of Black women.
It's a "moment to build up sisterhood, it's not about competing against each other for a crown, it's about celebrating Black women's intelligence and staying true to ourselves,” said Shaundrea Norman, 17, whose family is from Texas and grew up knowing about Juneteenth.
Kendall McCollun, 15-year-old Teen Miss Juneteenth Arizona, said the holiday is about the fight 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 we continue to fight 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 from politicians about ways residents could get involved in local politics as children received balloon animals and ran through Eastlake Park's playground.
In New York City, Juneteenth was celebrated across its five boroughs, with events drawing crowds that exceeded organizers’ expectations. In central Brooklyn, well over 7,000 people attended a food festival organized Saturday and Sunday by Black-Owned Brooklyn, a digital publication and directory of local Black businesses.
Although Juneteenth is a Black American holiday, organizers of the festival said they were intentional about including cuisines and flavors from the Caribbean and West African countries. On Sunday, long lines formed from nearly every food stall while a DJ played soulful house music for festively dressed attendees./agencies