A year after President Joe Biden signed legislation making June 19 the nation’s 12th federal holiday, people across the U.S. gathered at events filled with music, food and fireworks. Celebrations also included an emphasis on learning about history and addressing racial disparities. Many Black people celebrated the day just as they did before any formal recognition.
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.”
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%.
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.
Organizers of the festival said they were intentional about including cuisines and flavors from 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.
“The idea to celebrate Juneteenth around our food culture is particularly meaningful here in Brooklyn, where we have so many Black folks who live here from across the world,” said Tayo Giwa, co-creator of Black-Owned Brooklyn.
“Paying tribute to it through our shared connection in the (African) diaspora, it’s really powerful,” he said.
The event was held at the Weeksville Heritage Center, which was one of the largest Black communities for freedmen before the Civil War. Attendees were given guided tours of the grounds, which includes historic homes and other structures that were once inhabited by the community’s founders.
“For a day that’s about emancipation, it only makes sense to have people gather on this land and feed each other not just with food but also spirit and soul, emotion and love,” said Isa Saldaña, programs and partnerships manager for the Weeksville Heritage Center.
“A big part of (Juneteenth) is about learning to be free and feeling okay doing that,” she said.
Jeffrey Whaley Sr. attended the festival with his three children on Sunday, which was also Father’s Day. The Staten Island, New York, native said he was hopeful that federal observances of Juneteenth would increase awareness of the Black American story in the U.S.
“As each of us grows, we have to grow in the consciousness that we suffered a lot longer than they’re telling us we did,” Whaley said. “It’s our duty to our ancestors to make sure we educate ourselves and better ourselves within this country, because this country owes us a whole lot.”