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Society

Juneteenth, Recalling End of Slavery, Is Marked Across US

Parades, picnics and lessons in history were offered Saturday to commemorate Juneteenth in the U.S., a day that carried even more significance after Congress and President Joe Biden created a federal holiday to observe the end of slavery.

A new holiday was "really awesome. It's starting to recognize the African American experience," said Detroit artist Hubert Massey, 63. "But we still have a long way to go."

In Detroit, which is about 80% Black, students from University Prep Art & Design School dodged rain to repaint Massey's block-long message, "Power to the People," which was created last year on downtown Woodward Avenue.

The 'o' in "Power" was a red fist in memory of George Floyd and other victims of excessive force by police, Massey said.

"We did the original," said Olivia Jones, 15, leaning on a long paint roller. "It's important that we return and share that same energy."

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. It was about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Southern states.

Biden on Thursday signed a bill creating Juneteenth National Independence Day. Since June 19 fell on a Saturday, the government observed the holiday Friday. At least nine states have designated it in law as an official paid state holiday, all but one acting after Floyd, a Black man, was killed last year in Minneapolis.

In Galveston, the birthplace of the holiday, celebrations included the dedication of a 5,000-square-foot mural titled "Absolute Equality." Opal Lee, 94, who was at Biden's side when he signed the bill, returned to Fort Worth, Texas, to lead a 2.5-mile walk symbolizing the 2 1/2 years it took for slaves in Texas to find out they had been freed.

Officials in Bristol, Rhode Island, unveiled a marker that describes the seaport's role in the slave trade. The marker was placed at the Linden Place Museum, a mansion built by Gen. George DeWolf, who was a slave trader. The Rhode Island Slave History Medallion organization raises public awareness about the state's role in slavery. 

A street in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was renamed Saturday for civil rights activists Harry and Harriette Moore. Harry was credited with registering more than 100,000 Black voters. They were killed on Christmas Day 1951 — their 25th wedding anniversary — when a bomb exploded under their bed. 

The final scene of a movie about the couple, "The Price For Freedom," was also being shot.

"They were ordinary people who brought about extraordinary change, and we are privileged to pay tribute to them here in Broward County," county Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness said before the event.

Hundreds of people gathered for a free concert in New York's Times Square organized by The Broadway League, the trade group for the Broadway entertainment industry. 

At dusk, the Empire State Building brightened the sky with red, black and green lights to mark the day as it turned to night. Lights were used in similar fashion at other New York state landmarks including the World Trade Center, Niagara Falls and the Albany International Airport Gateway.

A Juneteenth parade was held in Evanston, Illinois, a Chicago suburb that is using tax revenue from marijuana sales to offer housing grants to Black residents for past discrimination and the lingering effects of slavery. 

Sacramento's Black community has organized Juneteenth festivals for 20 years, and this year's featured a parade, talent show, food fair, the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and even a golf tournament.

"This is the first Juneteenth where it's being recognized nationally and socially, by the masses and not just within the Black community," organizer Gary Simon said. "We've seen an uptick in non-Black folks coming here for the last several years, and I'm seeing the difference in just the conversations taking place today."

New York civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton offered a tough message during a speech at his National Action Network, saying Senate Republicans who voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a federal holiday should also support Democratic bills that change voting laws and make it easier to crack down on rogue police officers.

"The celebration of Juneteenth is not a party. … The way to deal with Juneteenth now is to deal with where race is in 2021," Sharpton said.

In Portland, Maine, Joe Kings said his great-great-great-grandmother was enslaved. He has a picture of her on the wall of his auto detailing shop. As he has for years, Kings commemorated Juneteenth with barbecue for adults and activities for kids.

"It's a little bit more celebratory knowing that it's official," Kings said, referring to his annual tradition and the new holiday. "I'm not saying we were in the closet about it, but now it's more widely recognized — and more importantly understood." 

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