By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This Friday, Juneteenth celebrations will be held across Minnesota. It’s a day that marks the end of slavery in the United States, but for many people, it’s so much more.

So, what is Juneteenth? Good Question.

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“It’s considered the Black Independence Day for Black Americans,” said Denise Butler, a community member who’s organizing a Juneteenth celebration in Brooklyn Park this year. “It’s still important because we fast forward to 2020 and a lot of the community is saying, ‘Were we really free?’”

Last year, Butler and several hundred people celebrated Juneteenth in Minneapolis’ Bethune Park. Due to COVID-19, that celebration has been cancelled this year. But, as restrictions have started to lift, other events have come in its place.

“People are planning the pop-up Juneteenth, which is wonderful,” said Lee Jordan, the state and regional director for National Juneteenth. “What’s wonderful to me is that there are so many young people that are embracing the idea of Juneteenth and taking on the mantle.”

Among the planned celebrations are at 38th and Chicago in South Minneapolis, West Broadway in North Minneapolis, the State Capitol in St. Paul, Brooklyn Park City Hall and many more. Butler is organizing a list of Juneteenth celebrations on his Facebook page.

Nekima Levy Armstrong is helping to organize a celebration, march and rally on Friday afternoon on West Broadway Avenue in Minneapolis. She says there will food, African American vendors, mental health kits for children and musical performances.

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Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas were finally freed — two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Union General Gordon Granger came Galveston tell the enslaved African Americans of their freedom, and that the Civil War had ended.

Now, 155 years later, community and Minneapolis Public School Board member Kerry Jo Felder says it’s like the Fourth of July when asked what Juneteenth means to her.

“Oh my gosh, I’m standing here, I can go where I want, my children can have a public education,” Felder said. “It’s actually a time for people to come together to find out what’s new in music, what’s new in dance and to showcase all of the beautiful things that we’ve built, what we’ve done, what we have made and the fact we are free.”

Washington D.C. and 47 states — all except Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota — recognize Juneteenth as a state of ceremonial holiday. 

There is a petition to make it a federal holiday. Organizers of that effort hope it gains steam as companies like Target, U.S. Bank, Nike, Twitter, J.C. Penney, Lending Tree, Mastercard, NFL, Spotify, Quicken Loans and Postmates make Juneteenth a company holiday.

This year, Felder and Jordan will try to get to as many celebrations as they can — safely.

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“If you believe in freedom, then you should be celebrating Juneteenth with us,” Jordan said.

Heather Brown