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Why Commemorate Juneteenth?

Why Commemorate Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is the newest federal holiday. It was added to the list of federal holidays and commemorated for the first time, in 2021. Many people may still not know the history of Juneteenth and why it is important to commemorate. Here is a quick synopsis.

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declaring slaves in the confederacy free, not all slaves experienced that freedom. Many African American people in states that were still under confederate control and remained enslaved. A full two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Union General Gordon Granger entered Galveston Texas and brought the news of emancipation. He read General Order number three that stated all 250,000 slaves in the state of Texas, now under federal control, were free. The abolition of slavery throughout the United States, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, was passed in December 1865.

In 1866, a year later, the freed African Americans in Texas commemorated the implementation of General Order number three with a day of celebration on June 19th called Jubilee Day. The day was marked by a variety of activities from prayer services to barbecues. As Texan African Americans migrated to other areas of the country, they took the commemoration, sometimes described and a second Independence Day, with them. The state of Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1979.

Commemorations of Juneteenth continued over the years to varying degrees. In 2021, the Congress of the United States passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday, which was signed into law on June 17th, 2021. Current commemorations include a variety of past celebrations (social gatherings and religious observances), as well as new activities that highlight the resilience, fortitude, creativity, and cultural life of the African American community.

The Grand Rapids Chamber is proud to co-host with Warner Norcross and Judd for our second annual Juneteenth Commemoration on Friday June 17th from 12p.m. to 1:30 p.m. This year, our commemoration will feature an in-person reception with speakers and a panel discussion on the theme Honoring the History, Imagining the Future. Three African American businesspeople from different industries and sectors will share how they honor the history of Juneteenth and imagine the future as business leaders. The event will also feature a webcast for public viewing.

Register for the webcast here.

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