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Americans celebrate June 19 with parties, events, and quiet reflection

DETROIT (AP) – Americans across the country celebrated June 19 this weekend, marking the relative anniversary new national holiday with cookouts, parades and other gatherings to commemorate the end of slavery after the Civil War.

While many saw the long holiday weekend as cause for a party, others urged calm reflection on America’s often violent and oppressive treatment of its black citizens. And still others have pointed out how strange it is to celebrate a federal holiday that marks the end of slavery in the country, while many Americans are trying to prevent parts of that history from being taught in public schools.

“Is #Juneenth the only federal holiday on which some states have banned teaching about its history and meaning?” Author Michelle Duster asked on Twitter this weekend, citing actions in Florida, Oklahoma and Alabama that are promoting an Advancement Placement African American Studies course or prohibit the teaching of certain concepts of race and racism.

The federal holiday on Monday commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned of their emancipation – two years after Emancipation was declared during the bloody Civil War.

Over the weekend of June 15, a Roman Catholic church in Detroit dedicated its service to urging parishioners to dig deeper into the teachings of the holiday.

“To achieve justice, we must work for peace. And to have peace, we must work for justice,” John Thorne, executive director of the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, told the Gesu Catholic Church congregation in Detroit.

The standing Gesu choir is cheered on by the congregation as they sing during mass June 18, 2023 at Gesu Catholic Church in Detroit.
The standing Gesu choir is cheered on by the congregation as they sing during mass June 18, 2023 at Gesu Catholic Church in Detroit.

Jose Juarez via Associated Press

Standing in front of paintings of a black Jesus and Mary, Thorne said June 19 was a day of celebration, but it also needed to be “much more”.

It’s important to talk about the Juneteenth during Sunday mass, Rev. Lorn Snow told a reporter as the service drew to a close.

“The fight is still not over. There’s still a lot to do,” he said.

People attend the Center-sponsored Queer Juneteenth Block Party in New York on June 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)
People attend the Center-sponsored Queer Juneteenth Block Party in New York on June 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)

Jeenah Moon via Associated Press

According to a recent poll, most black Americans agree. A whopping 70% of black adults queried in an AP-NORC poll said “a lot” needs to be done to achieve equal treatment for African Americans in policing. And black Americans suffer from it significantly worse health outcomes than their white peers across a variety of measures, including maternal mortality, asthma, hypertension and Alzheimer’s disease.

Although celebrations of the end of slavery are new to many parts of the country, in Memphis, where the slave trade once thrived, Juneteenth was celebrated long before it became a federal holiday in 2021. The Tennessee legislature passed a bill earlier this year that also made it a state holiday.

Festivities there include a multi-day festival of food, music, arts and crafts, and cultural exhibits in a tree-lined park in the city’s Medical District. Memphis Park was once the site of an equestrian statue and grave of slaver and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The statue and body have been moved in recent years.

Memphis is home to the National Civil Rights Museum, located on the site of the old Lorraine Motel, the former black-owned hotel where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. On the occasion of the commemoration on Monday, the museum offers free admission holidays. At the museum, visitors can hear recorded speeches by civil rights activists including King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, and others.

Ryan Jones, associate curator at the museum, said June 19 should be celebrated in the US with the same vigor that July 4 is given as Independence Day.

“It’s the independence of a people who have endured oppression and discrimination because of the color of their skin,” Jones said.

The Juneteenth holiday, Jones said, should also be viewed as more than a day when people attend parties and barbecues. In fact, it’s a time to reflect on the past, he said.

“It honors the sacrifices made by those early civil rights veterans between WWI and WWII, and of course in modern society, the protests, the demonstrations, the nonviolence, the marches,” Jones said.

When Americans gathered to celebrate the holiday, it was not without incident. In a Chicago suburb late Saturday night One person was killed and 22 injured in a shooting still under investigation by police on Sunday. A witness said the party in the parking lot of a mall in Willowbrook, Illinois was a June 19 celebration.

The White House released a statement Sunday afternoon that said, “The President and First Lady remember the dead and injured who were killed in last night’s Illinois shooting.” June 19 tries to offer help to state and local politicians.”

The holiday observance continues Monday with Vice President Kamala Harris appearing on a CNN special featuring musical guests including Miguel and Charlie Wilson.

Schools and federal buildings will remain closed on Monday.

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