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The Juneteenth flag, commemorating the day that slavery ended in the U.S., flies in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, June 17, 2020. By Nati Harnik for AP Photo

Juneteenth festival celebrates knowing, calls for action

During holidays with historical importance, celebrations remain equally as valuable as reflection and action. While Juneteenth will be celebrated on June 20 instead of June 19 due to Father's Day, the former sentiment remains critical as people continue to recognize the event.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, and is recognized as a public holiday at the state level in 24 states and Washington, D.C., according to Pew Research. These states, with the exception of Texas, recognized Juneteenth as an official state holiday in 2020 or later.

In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect and declared that people who were enslaved were legally free in Confederate states. But enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, didn't find out about the proclamation until June 19, 1865, when Union troops came to the area and shared the information. This day became known as Juneteenth

Ohio University and Athens have an important and rich Black history. Part of the history was displayed before OU's official Juneteenth celebration on June 18. Vanessa Morgan, assistant director of diversity and inclusion programs and co-chair for the Juneteenth planning committee, said that before the festival began, an organized health walk took place and highlighted Black historical places in the area for attendees. Morgan also said this was an opportunity for people to visually learn before coming together at the Juneteenth festival. 

"This is a smaller group for you to have an intimate one-on-one conversation with a tour guide," Morgan said. "There's a lot of Black history where we are, but people don't know about it." 

At the festival on College Green, 31 organizations and 15 different vendors were present. Much planning went into the festival, and Morgan said people from across the university helped in the ways they could. 

"We're very intentional about our partners, but then when it comes to planning we just wanted to make sure that we create a space that people will remember what Juneteenth is about," Morgan said. "Not just come and have fun and leave, but understand the significance of the celebration, and then also have a good time and just spend time together in the name (of the holiday)."

One of the festival's goals was to create a sense of belonging. Duane Bruce, executive director of diversity and inclusion, said that recognizing Juneteenth allows them to further the core mission of both OU and the Division of Diversity and Inclusion, uplifting diverse identities within the community. 

"This Juneteenth celebration — although it's a big program and it feels like a party — it's supposed to be that because we're celebrating a piece of history," Bruce said. "We're also educating a whole bunch of people who might not have been educated on the past. And that is of crucial importance."

Bruce also said that the U.S. still grapples with racial justice. "Part of the celebration is the call to action for our community. There's this education but there's also a call to action."

The Juneteenth festival helps people learn about a piece of history that often gets skipped over in educational systems and curricula. People in surrounding communities and programs came together to increase awareness of the event and ask for action from others to help repair the ever-lasting harm and damage that led to the holiday. 

"I think this event is really really important because it sheds light on American history," Bruce said. "And a part of American history that many people are not aware of. I think it's a really important reminder that there are pieces of American history that we still need to shed light on and that oftentimes people don't know about."


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