CU celebrates federal Juneteenth holiday
June 19, 2023
Juneteenth, the United States federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people, officially took place on Monday. The celebration of Juneteenth spanned several days across the Champaign-Urbana community.
The occasion began with a flag raising ceremony in front of the Urbana city building on Friday and continued throughout the weekend to include community events, vendor fairs and various family-friendly activities throughout the area.
Darius White, an Urbana economic development coordinator, said Juneteenth celebrations included parades, concerts, community events, educational programs and opportunities for family and social gatherings.
“These celebrations are influenced by the diverse history and tradition of black communities across the country and serve as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and justice,” White said.
All non-essential federal offices were closed for the federal holiday, enabling many employees to take a three-day weekend.
Although Juneteenth was only made an official holiday by the federal government in 2021, its existence as a significant date for the Black community traces its roots back to 1865.
A brief history of Juneteenth
On June 19, 1865, Union general Gordon Granger informed a group of previously enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas of their newly afforded citizenship and freedom. This address came approximately two months after Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union forces in Appomattox, Virginia — and well over two years after Abraham Lincoln’s signature of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The National Museum of African American History & Culture at the Smithsonian Institute describes Juneteenth as “our country’s second independence day,” highlighting the fact that the independence of the United States excluded enslaved individuals in its guarantees of certain rights to its citizens.
Although Juneteenth marked the inclusion of Black people as citizens of the United States, there remained a long and arduous path toward equity for all.
“The post-emancipation period known as Reconstruction marked an era of great hope, uncertainty, and struggle for the nation as a whole,” reads the Smithsonian article regarding the holiday. “Formerly enslaved people immediately sought to reunify families, establish schools, run for political office, push radical legislation and even sue slaveholders for compensation.”
158 years following the emancipation of enslaved people in Texas on June 19, 1865, White said that community members still fight for justice every day.
“We are also reminded that freedom is something that we should never take for granted,” White said in his address at the Juneteenth flag raising on Friday. “We all must strive to break down barriers that impede the progress of equality. We must remember our past so that we do not repeat it and we can build a better future for ourselves and future generations.”
Urbana’s Juneteenth flag raising
On Friday, the city of Urbana hosted a Juneteenth flag raising at the Urbana City building. The event was intended to mark the official observance of the holiday in the city of Urbana with speeches from Urbana city officials.
The Juneteenth flag, which features the colors of the American flag and one bright star in the center surrounded by a white burst, commemorates the emancipation of all enslaved individuals in the United States.
At Friday’s event, the Juneteenth flag was raised alongside the American and Illinois state flags in front of the building.
Speeches from city officials highlighted the history of both the flag and the holiday.
“The celebration of Juneteenth dates back to 1866,” said Femi Fletcher, human resources and finance official at the city of Urbana. “The flag is raised here today (in recognition) of what this day means for our friends, our neighbors, our ancestors and our nation.”
A central theme of this event was collective progress as a society and the ongoing struggle for liberation. Fletcher discussed the 13th amendment and its ratification across all 50 states. In her speech, Fletcher highlighted several states which passed the amendment in recent years — including Mississippi, which ratified in 2013.
The event was also marked with a reading of the mayoral proclamation of Juneteenth’s official observance in Urbana.
“Therefore I, Diane Wolfe Marlin, mayor of the city of Urbana, do hereby proclaim June 19th, 2023 as Juneteenth in Urbana, to be celebrated proudly throughout the community,” read Marlin’s proclamation.
Juneteenth at Douglass Park
On Saturday, community members gathered at Douglass Park in Champaign to celebrate Juneteenth. The event was marketed as a fun and exciting summer celebration with live music and small local vendors.
Individuals from university agencies, libraries, small businesses and community organizations offered their time and services at the event.
At the event’s stage, visitors enjoyed performances from a wide range of local musicians — ranging from a drum collective and jazz combo to youth performers — as well as a raffle for attendees which could be entered by providing a donation.
Several local black-owned businesses featured their handmade products including clothing, jewelry, perfume and accessories.
The event highlighted and uplifted the Black community in Champaign-Urbana and brought together diverse individuals from across the area.
While the flag raising sought to bring awareness to the history and significance of Juneteenth, the Douglass Park celebration seemed to engage its visitors through dancing, food, music and a sense of community.