Last weekend, the annual Juneteenth festival filled Weber State University’s campus with music and celebration. The celebration lasted two days between June 17 and 18 in commemoration of the end of slavery.
“This is a historical day today,” said Gov. Gary Herbert, as he stood atop a stage, preparing to sign the bill on Saturday. “We know about history, [but] today, we are making history.”
During this year’s event, Utah became the 44th state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. There were booths sponsoring the celebration, as well as live performers, prepared to educate as well as entertain, all near the bell tower.
The bill, H. B. 338, was signed during the 2016 legislative session. The bill was sponsored by Representative Sandra Hollins, as well as Senator Alvin B. Jackson. It states that “Juneteenth Freedom Day, [shall be held] on the third Saturday in June, in honor of Union General Gordon Granger proclaiming the freedom of all slaves on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas.”
According to the website Juneteenth.com, the festival originated when the Emancipation Proclamation was first declared. It had been declared for two years before it became an official proclamation after the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865. Attempts to explain this two-and-a-half-year delay in the receipt of this important news in Texas have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years.
Once the news had been received by the public, many slaves left their plantations and former masters and went to find their families. Many celebrated and rejoiced. The Juneteenth celebration since that day has been a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. The event has spread across the country and is still celebrated today.
“Juneteenth marks not just the end of slavery but the beginning of freedom,” WSU President Chuck Wight said during the festivities.
According to Juneteenth.com, this festival is one of the oldest, most celebrated events since 1865, when the Emancipation Proclamation was passed. The WSU event was created for friends and families of all ages.
There were booths this weekend from supporting sponsors like Equality Utah, Huntsman Cancer Institute, Allstate, Cultivating Growth and more. There was food from K&C Southern Style Barbeque and other similar restaurants. For the children, the event provided bounce houses and chalk.
“This event is about a festival, but also this is a learning opportunity,” Hollands said of the festival.
The event had papers spread across the booths with stories from historical figures that helped to bring about the end of slavery. It also provided a number of artists, from singers to tribal music played on African drums, to teach about the African American past.
“All of us here are brothers and sisters, no matter what our ethnicity is or the color of our skin,” Herbert said before signing the bill.