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A Juneteenth parade in Flint, Michigan, in 2018. Associated Press

  • June 19 — or Juneteenth — is  commemorated by many Black Americans as an independence day.
  • Black communities have been honoring the end of US slavery for years -  the US as a whole is only now catching up.
  • Email [email protected]
    com and tell us how you're commemorating June 19.
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Cities and states across the country Saturday will officially commemorate Juneteenth. 

The public holiday honors 156 years since Union army soldiers first arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform some of the country's last remaining enslaved African Americans that the Emancipation Proclamation - signed by President Abraham Lincoln two years prior - had established their freedom.

But for many Black communities, the commemoration of the end of US slavery has already been a longstanding tradition - it's the nation as a whole that is only now catching up.

Although campaigns to make Juneteenth a federal holiday remain unanswered, the lack of formal recognition hasn't stopped its remembrance.

From parades and pageants, Juneteenth is a celebration of African American liberation through art, music, performance and social action. 

So what does Juneteenth mean to you? And how you celebrate it? Insider's Voices of Color wants to hear from you. 

Email us: Tell us how you're celebrating the holiday, and what the day means in light of this past year's racial justice movement at [email protected] Send us photos of parades you've attended in your community, perhaps a cookout you hosted before the pandemic hit. We'll be following up with you to hear more about your story. 

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Tags: how you’re and social action black communities the country

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A holiday of paradoxes: Juneteenth sparks joy and reflections for Bay Area residents

In the days following George Floyd’s murder, West Oakland resident David Peters broke out weeping at unexpected moments. Helicopters flew constantly overhead as protests roiled downtown Oakland. He could hardly concentrate at work.

By the time Juneteenth arrived about three weeks later, the celebrations were wrapped up in shared pain and anger –“burn, baby, burn,” he recalled.  One year later, the day struck a different note for Peters.

“I feel like swelling with joy, like I could spontaneously combust,” said Peters. “I’m so damn excited.”

Celebrations, festivals and cookouts across the Bay Area Saturday commemorated June 19, 1865, the day that the last enslaved people in Texas finally learned that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two years earlier. And this year, after President Joe Biden signed legislation Thursday, the day is a federal holiday.

For many Black Bay Area residents, this year’s Juneteenth carries an extra weight: The holiday caps a year of immense grief and determination following Floyd’s death and a subsequent public grappling with systemic racism and police brutality, which has manifested in global protests, the officer’s eventual conviction, and renewed discussions of law enforcement reform and reparations for Black Californians.

“Juneteenth is a holiday of paradoxes,” said Oakland resident Brittany Rae Buckmire, 27. “There’s this grief, and this loss, and then there’s this reclamation and this joy and this togetherness. As difficult as this past year has been, there is a reckoning.”

Early in the day, dozens of people poured into Oakland’s 34th Street and San Pablo Avenue to observe the holiday and the launch of the Black Liberation Walking Tour, a self-guided tour and oral history Peters dreamed up to honor the neighborhood’s cultural and historical Black spaces.

Eighty-year-old Alternier Cook, who grew up in the Hoover-Foster neighborhood in the 1940s and 50s and is leading a local effort to revive a library there, said that recognition of the holiday doesn’t mean much on its own.

“How come they couldn’t get together to get money into this neighborhood so we can get our library back? How come they couldn’t get together to sign a bill so these people don’t have to worry about paying their rent, or having some place to stay, or having medical or dental bills, or address the attempts of voter suppression?” Cook said.

“Let me say this,” she added. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

El Cerrito resident Maurice Greer, 39, likewise ticked off the names of other Black Americans that have died at the hands of law enforcement or while in custody: Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland. The federal recognition of Juneteenth is a baby step, he said, “but it’s a long staircase.”

“I feel a little bit of relief, a little bit of joy, a lot of pain — all of that, all of that piles into one word, which is soul,” Greer said. “The music, the food we cook, the love we give to everybody around us, it all has to grow.”

As songs like James Brown’s “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” and Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine” played from the loudspeakers, both longtime neighborhood residents and visitors from around the Bay greeted one another with elbow bumps, ate fresh barbecue from the iconic Flint’s Barbecue pop-up stand and danced.

A few miles away at Oakland’s Lake Merritt, meanwhile, at least 300 people had fanned across the grass near the amphitheater by mid-afternoon, including a diverse range of families, couples and young people, some of which donned shirts like “I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams” and “Young, Black, Ambitious.” Stalls sold West African food, coffee, funnel cakes and garlic fries, while attendees sought shade under the trees and listened to a DJ spin soul music.

Growing up in Richmond, where Juneteenth celebrations have traditionally attracted thousands of people, 34-year-old Shyra Flenory’s family has always spent the day together — which is partially why she and her partner brought their baby, Jace, in a stroller to his first celebration at the lake.

Looking back on the past year, she said, it feels like “we’re going to be moving forward.”

“It made us come together more,” she said of George Floyd. “His death — with Juneteenth right after — uplifted us to do more.”

Derek Fant, 62, drove more than 80 miles to escape the scorching heat of Modesto and enjoy the day surrounded by other Black people. Last weekend, he and his partner were camping near the Modesto Reservoir when they saw a camper van drive up behind them with a Trump flag on it. They were terrified, he said, until the driver waved at them.

For Fant, spending Juneteenth by the lake — lawn chair in tow, plate on his lap — is a way to forget about experiences like that, along with the intensity of the past year.

“I’m excited to see my other Black people happy for one day,” he said.

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