NEW YORK — Juneteenth — which commemorates the day in 1865 in which the final slaves were told that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed — has been celebrated for years, but not on the level it’s being celebrated in 2021.
For the first time, it’s a federal holiday and people across New York were ready to enjoy themselves.
Hundreds gathered at Brooklyn’s Herbert Von King Park Saturday for the 12th annual Juneteenth Family Festival. PIX11 News was a proud sponsor of the event.
The revelers say that, while we still have a long way to go, it’s definitely progress.
“It’s a celebration of Black business, Black life, we’re celebrating being free and just being happy people,” said Alina Young.
Even the area’s sports teams got into the act. The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks were both on hand.
Former New York Rangers’ forward Tom Laidlaw, who spent seven season in New York as a player in the 80s, told us this was a learning experience.
“I think it was good for me to learn what Juneteenth was all about and understand how it should’ve happened a long time ago, making this a national holiday,” said Laidlaw, who also competed on a 2019 season of “Survivor.”
It’s a day to celebrate Black culture and Black history. The theme for this year’s festival: Rebirthing the Roots of Entrepreneurial Excellence.
“Each of the vendors has a particular item on the table that is red, because red is the Juneteenth color, as it ties us to the ancestors that lost their lives,” said organizer Athenia Rodney.
Meanwhile, on Broadway, a free outdoor concert in Times Square as Broadway celebrates Juneteenth. It was hosted by Tony Award-winner Lilias White with a special appearance by fellow Tony-winner Ben Vereen.
Performers came from Broadway shows across the spectrum. All have been dark since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020.
“It was a celebration of the Black contribution to the worlds of theater, the arts and entertainment,” said Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League. “But how in the world can you even begin to assess the impact? It is so vast and varied.”
The plan is for the event to continue in years to come, which many hope will be the case after President Biden made Juneteenth a national holiday on Thursday.
“We’re thanking the president for recognizing today as a national holiday and we here in Times Square are celebrating,” Vereen said.
Saturday night, Gladys Knight performed as part of the festivities. She sang the same songs she sang 50 years ago this month as part of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
As part of the Juneteenth celebration, there was also a special screening of a new film “Summer of Soul” about that very festival that was virtually eliminated from the history books, until now.
More than 300,000 people attended a series of six concerts in Marcus Garvey Park in what became known as “the Black Woodstock” to some.
Director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, better known as the drummer for The Roots and an essential part of the “Tonight Show,” says the film displays never-before-seen footage from the festival.