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Juneteenth: The history behind the holiday

Posted at 8:08 PM, Jun 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-19 12:55:33-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — June 19th- or Juneteenth- has been celebrated as a holiday in the black community for decades. The day commemorates when the last shackles of slavery were finally broken in Galveston, Texas.

"Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but it took two and a half years for the word, they didn't have cell phones in those days, so word slowly made its way to Texas, which was the furthest west place where slavery still was," explained George Bayard, the Executive Director of the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives. "They sent a Union officer, Colonel Granger, down to that area to tell the people that they were free... once they people heard, they immediately started to celebrate."

The day was dubbed "Juneteenth" merging June and 19th together. It is also commonly referred to as Jubilee Day, or Emancipation Day.

"It was a time of rejoicing, barbecues, baseball games, just good times," said Bayard. "They moved north and west and took the holiday with them... Now it's celebrated in almost every state."

In the wake of the death of George Floyd and unrest around the world, there is new attention on Juneteenth this year. Big companies like Nike, Twitter, Target and the NFL have designated it as a paid holiday, giving their employees time to reflect on what the day represents.

"What slaves were fighting for then, some of the same things are what people are marching in the streets for today," explained Bayard. "It's actually much better now I think, because people know the history, or are learning the history of it, I think because of all of the turmoil we're having now."

Bayard works to preserve and share history from the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives, along with William C. Muhammad at the Dr. James Jackson Museum of African-American History in Muskegon Heights.

Both men said it's important to learn African American history, because it's also American- and world- history.

"What do they say, if you don't know your history, the history, you're doomed to repeat it, the mistakes and failures of that history," Muhammad told FOX 17. "We need to move forward, in trying to learn more and more and more about our true history... We are in a situation where we have to adapt, we have to invent, we have to create and we have to be adaptable to what's going on."

Governor Whitmer has declared June 19th as "Juneteenth Celebration Day" in Michigan.

There are Juneteenth events being held all across West Michigan. Check out the list below to see if one is happening near you.

June 19th, Friday:

Juneteenth celebration on the Kalamazoo Mall, 8a-4p, South Rose Street between Lovell and South Street

Kalamazoo Valley Community College – Virtual Juneteenth celebration

Juneteenth Community Drive By Parade, 2:30-4pm, Grand Rapids, MI
Madison and Hall Street

Unapologetically Black Cultural Festival, 4-7pm Martin Luther King Park, 900 Fuller Ave SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506

Open Mic Protest in Celebration of Juneteenth, 5pm Rosa Parks Circle

March for Black Lives! March for Black Unity, 6-8pm at Rosa Parks Circle in Downtown Grand Rapids

June 20th, Saturday - The Grand Rapids African-American Community Task Force is holding Culture Freedom: A Juneteenth Festival, 11 AM – 3 PM, Martin Luther King Park, 900 Fuller Ave SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506

Juneteenth Celebration, 3pm Garfield Park Community Gym, Grand Rapids