Social Issues

US celebrates Juneteenth, boosted by racial justice movement

Washington DC/New York City, June 19 (efe-epa).- Friday’s Juneteenth celebrations took on renewed significance this year as it was celebrated throughout the United States, spurred by racial justice protests of the past month.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Army general Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, Texas, a federal order declaring the freedom of black slaves in the state. It came two and a half years after president Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and the other states in rebellion against the Union.

Until now, the event has been remembered mainly by African-Americans who celebrated it with picnics and family meals, but this year many Americans joined after the wave of anti-racism protests in recent weeks following the death of African-American George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis in late May.

Cities across the US, such as Oakland, California; Chicago, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Miami, Florida; Washington, DC, and New York hosted events, protests and gatherings, which took on a celebratory yet defiant tone.

The capital, Washington, was scene of more than 20 events throughout the day.

Players from local basketball teams, the men’s Wizards and the women’s Mystics, took part in a march that ended at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the banks of the Potomac River. Participants wore T-shirts from the Black Lives Matter movement.

Not far from there, dozens were preparing to go on another march through the Mall, the esplanade of museums between the White House and the Capitol Building.

Protesters set up tables to encourage registration for the Nov. 3 general election between the George Washington Monument and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“If you don’t vote, you don’t count” and “Look, listen, read, protest, vote” were the messages from some of the banners they carried.

Among them was Laura, a 47-year-old civil engineer, who told EFE that she did not know the holiday existed until almost a year ago: “I am one of the few people who did not know about my own history. I knew that we were free with Abraham Lincoln, but was unaware that there was a two-year delay in Texas.”

This Baltimore resident said she decided to go to Washington for Juneteenth instead of her city because the president, power and the legislators are here.

“They have to see us and hear our voices,” she said.

There was also no shortage of people gathering in front of the White House, although with various locations and marches happening, only a few dozen people were seen shortly after noon.

Meanwhile, in New York City, thousands took to the streets in a march in which the majority of participants dressed in black.

“I am here because all black lives matter. We’re trying to get some justice and equality for black people… We are here to support our brothers and sisters and everybody out here trying to get justice for black people,” Michael told EFE in front of the New York City Council, where one of the protests started.

Michael attended the march dressed in a black T-shirt, which said “I can’t breathe,” the last words Floyd spoke before he died as a result of the pressure that a police officer exerted for almost nine minutes on the back of his neck.

The Manhattan protest, in which nearly 2,000 people participated, was joined by a much larger one that started in Brooklyn neighborhood and crossed the East River to the cry of “Black lives matter.”

Juneteenth is not recognized as a federal holiday, although many states have proclaimed its observance and, in the case of New York, its mayor, Bill de Blasio, declared the day as an official holiday starting next year.

In Miami, Florida, the John Johnson and James Weldon song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the African-American National Anthem, was played on Friday in Miami Beach in commemoration.

Singer Nicole Henry thrilled the more than 100 people gathered in the first time that the mayor’s office has celebrated a date not on the official holiday calendar of the United States.

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