HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — People across the country gathered on Saturday to celebrate Juneteenth. On June 19, 1865, slaves in Texas found out they were free two-and-a-half years after President Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in southern states.
A lot of people had never heard of Juneteenth until recently. On Saturday, people across the Midstate rang in the newest federal holiday, after President Biden signed it into law on Thursday.
For many Black Americans, including Gary Gilliam, Fourth of July doesn’t symbolize freedom for all.
“July 4th was an independence day, but not all Americans were equal at that point,” Gilliam said. “And once slaves were officially freed and that message got all the way across the country, that was June 19 of 1865, so that’s what we’re celebrating here.”
And so in 2021, a jubilee was hosted by Empower at the Bridge Foundation and Young Professionals of Color.
“It’s a new celebration and I love the fact that it’s something you get to celebrate every year now,” Barbara Dubois said during the celebration.
Dubois brought her daughter, not just to paint, but to learn.
“We’re gonna learn every year what Juneteenth is about and she’s going to grow up and do this and explain it to other people and I’m just happy I get to live these moments with her,” Dubois said.
“They may not understand it at a young, young age, but they’ll see that people are celebrating and as they get older, they’ll understand the significance of it and continue to pass those teachings on for generations to come,” Gilliam said.
It’s the same message at Sunshine Park, where Capital Rebirth organized its second annual Juneteenth Celebration.
“This is a part of not just Black history, but American history,” Madeline Williams, Capital Rebirth’s Communications and Media Director said.
Beyond the vendors, face painting, and free food, it’s opening the door for dialogue.
“This is the start,” Williams said. “This is a conversation starter and moving forward we’ll start talking about the other untold stories that we don’t know about and then maybe there will be more holidays to come from those conversations.”
It may be the first time Juneteenth Independence Day is recognized as a federal holiday, but Gilliam hopes no matter your background, everyone can celebrate.
“It’s important for everyone to identify with this day and celebrate it just as fully as they do July 4th,” Gilliam said.