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Juneteenth Becomes Federal Holiday

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(Artwork by Abby Haywood)

By Sean Chase

More than 150 years after Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, with belated news of the Civil War’s end and the Emancipation Proclamation, President Joe Biden put pen to paper on June 17, approving a measure to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

“I have to say to you, I’ve only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president,” Biden said, during the signing ceremony.

On the same day, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released a proclamation recognizing June 19, as Juneteenth Celebration Day throughout Michigan.

“We encourage all citizens in the State of Michigan to participate in the Juneteenth Freedom Festival and celebrate African American history and culture, while continuing to promote diversity, equality, and a strong sense of community in our state,” stated the proclamation.

Juneteenth gained national attention in 2020 following the death of George Floyd. However, the holiday has been celebrated in the United States, and across the globe, since the first celebration in Texas in 1866.

One of the people in attendance for the signing was Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” Lee turned to advocacy at the age of 89, planning to walk 1,400 miles from Texas to Washington D.C. When Lee’s team advised her against this journey, she settled on creating annual 2.5-mile walks to honor the 250,000-plus enslaved people in Galveston.

During the signing ceremony, Biden stated it’s not enough to commemorate the newly created federal holiday, encouraging Americans to use it as a day of reflection and action.

The city of Grand Rapids held multiple events on Saturday, June 19, celebrating the announcement of Juneteenth. However, the celebration will not be contained to one day, as multiple celebrations are scheduled through Sunday, June 20, such as the Roll Bounce Juneteenth Celebration at Calder Park Plaza.

For those choosing to celebrate through reflection, consider looking into the history of abolitionist’s such as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth.

For those looking to take action in support of equality, you can contact the NAACP, LIVEFREE, Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives and the National Urban League for more information.

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