Juneteenth — a celebration of freedom

By Jaz Brennan

In a year disrupted by a global pandemic, race and civil rights issues returning to the surface and violence advancing throughout many parts of the world, there is no doubt that we could all use some moments of reflection and connection with ourselves and our histories. 

Juneteenth is a celebration that offers value to our communities. However, with the continued coronavirus concerns, some wonder whether a festival will be safe enough for people to attend. 

Every year since 1994, Ann Arbor has opened up Wheeler Park to host a Juneteenth celebration. The Ann Arbor chapter of the NAACP, the Washtenaw County Democratic Party and many other organizations come together in the center of what was a historically Black Ann Arbor neighborhood. The park is also dedicated to the first and only African American Mayor of the city, Albert H. Wheeler. 

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the end of American slavery. On June 19, 1865, the announcement of slavery abolition reached the last of the enslaved people in Texas and other southwestern states. The news reached them two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln. 

It is with great importance that we hold this day sacred. The day of Black emancipation is as significant a part of our nation’s history as our independence from the British secured on July 4, 1776. Nevertheless, the United States of America does not, as a whole, recognize this day as a national holiday with three states not recognizing it at all (North and South Dakota and Hawaii). The state of Michigan only acknowledges June 19 as a day of celebration. 

Ypsilanti recently passed a city resolution to make Juneteenth an official holiday, and Ann Arbor passed a resolution on May 18 to do the same. 

“I think this is something that is long overdue not just here in the city of Ypsilanti, and the state of Michigan, but it is something that is long overdue in this country,” said Ypsilanti Mayor, Lois Richardson. “And I believe that as [cities] begin to adopt and declare June 19 as a holiday, the state, the country… will eventually get to that place where it will be a national holiday.”

While widespread recognition and commemoration are important aspects of understanding the history of the United States, so is the movement we make to continue forward. Teaching our youth about the realities of slavery in the United States must be paired with the appreciation and dedication to Black art, science, creativity, resourcefulness and resilience.

We need to educate our populace about the devastating horrors and atrocities committed against Black communities which have large ripple effects into our present day lives. Juneteenth is not simply the observation of a moment in history, but a dedication to be beholden to our fellow people, to our history, and as such, our futures. 

The 2020 Juneteenth celebration was canceled due to the pandemic, and we are waiting with anticipation to hear if vaccinations and masks will be enough to open up the festivities this year. 

While we await the the city’s decision about our Juneteenth celebration, there are personal ways in which we can observe this holiday. Take an afternoon to visit the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, or connect to their digital exhibitions. Study the African Diaspora, or listen to and learn the words of Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing. Shop at and support Black business, and, for goodness sakes, read Toni Morrison! Let your exploration take you back to your own family history, track it, accept it. And when you’re finished with all of the above, meditate on what it means to be free. 

For updated information on the Ann Arbor Juneteenth festival, please see annarborjuneteenth.com or a2gov.org.

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