Juneteenth, a day of celebration marking the abolition of slavery for millions in the United States, has merged this year with the wave of activism sparked in Minneapolis by the death of George Floyd to take on added significance.
And while the last holiday, Memorial Day, brought Floyd’s death, organizers say that Juneteenth will be the first holiday since then to celebrate his life.
The Twin Cities’ biggest Juneteenth festival was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But a long slate of events are planned for Friday in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the metro suburbs, many featuring entertainment, free food and rallies, and incorporating donation drives.
Misha Bartlett said the fresh attention paid to the holiday shows how far the country has come, though there’s still a long way to go.
“I think there has been a place in time that has been opened up and I think it’s going to define us all as a world,” said Bartlett, an organizer of the Juneteenth celebration sponsored by Unite & Rebuild MSP, one of the events planned Friday in the Twin Cities.
An 8 a.m. memorial run for Floyd will kick off outside Cup Foods at the south Minneapolis corner where he died, followed by a cookout and donation drive. People are planning to gather outside the State Capitol for a Juneteenth Reparations Rally at 1 p.m. hosted by Black Lives Matter Minnesota and other activist groups.
The day also will be marked in some suburbs. Apple Valley’s Kelley Park will host Ashes to Beauty Block Party Friday evening, with food vendors and retail from black owners. At Brooklyn Park City Hall, local leaders will hold a social justice rally.
Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, when enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, first learned that the Civil War was over and that they were free under the Emancipation Proclamation signed 2½ years before.
Minneapolis for years has hosted large Juneteenth celebrations. In 2010, more than 15,000 people came together on the North Side for Twin Cities Juneteenth, one of the largest such celebrations in the country.
Now activists are calling for Juneteenth to be recognized as a national holiday. Officials with Target, U.S. Bank and Best Buy all recently announced they will make it a company holiday.
“There is going to be an absolute large number of people that will engage in [Juneteenth] because of the time and space we’re in. I think this is going to be a really great day of awareness for people,” Bartlett said.
Sounds of Blackness singer Jamecia Bennett will perform at the Unite & Rebuild MSP event in the parking lot of Target in the Longfellow neighborhood of south Minneapolis, the center of much of the protesting and rioting along E. Lake Street that followed Floyd’s death.
The popular ensemble is releasing a new single in honor of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other recent victims of racist violence. Music director and producer Gary Hines said the song, “Sick and Tired,” was inspired by the words of the late black activist Fannie Lou Hamer.
“Juneteenth is the vanguard of really highlighting the relevance of everything that’s happening today with 1865. It’s all part of the same story and all interconnected even though a century apart,” Hines said.
Bennett, who will perform with her band J Movement, said this Juneteenth will be different from years past. While she didn’t like to see buildings burn in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, she said, “It was a battle cry of ‘See us, hear us, feel us.’ We are free and we have to be treated as such.”
“We celebrate this day every year, but I think this year has a much broader meaning,” she said. “I think people have become more involved since the George Floyd incident. People’s eyes have been open to a lot of things. ... For the first time, we’re at a pause. We have no choice but to allow this to resonate.”