NEW YORK: With marches, music and speeches, Americans on Saturday celebrated “Juneteenth”, the newly declared national holiday that marks the end of slavery and which comes a year after George Floyd’s murder sparked anti-racism protests.
Hundreds of events were planned across the country, from New York to Los Angeles, and most notably in Galveston, Texas, the symbolic heart of the Juneteenth commemoration.
For on June 19, 1865, it was in that Texas coastal area that the Union army — victorious after the bitterly fought Civil War — announced to African Americans that, even if some in Texas were trying to ignore it, enslaved people were now free.
Slavery was formally abolished in December 1865, with the adoption of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution, but Juneteenth has remained the emblematic date marking the freeing of enslaved Americans.
This year’s Juneteenth celebrations will be all the more celebratory, coming just days after President Joe Biden signed legislation making it a national holiday, and also at a time when pandemic-imposed restrictions on public gatherings are steadily being eased.
“It was a long time coming,” said 68-year-old Cheryl Green. She was attending the unveiling in Brooklyn of a bust of George Floyd, the Black man killed by a white policeman in Minneapolis in May 2020. “It’s good that people get to recognize what happened,” said Green, an African-American resident of the Flatbush neighbourhood. “Changes are being made slowly, but surely we’ll get there.”
An opinion survey published Tuesday by the Gallup institute found that 28 percent of Americans knew “nothing at all” about the anniversary.