Juneteenth festival celebrates knowledge and calls to action

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

Juneteenth became a federal holiday on June 17, 2021 and is recognized as a state-level holiday in 24 states and Washington, DC, according to Pew Research. These states, except Texas, have recognized Juneteenth as an official holiday in 2020 or later.

In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and declared enslaved people to be legally free in the Confederate States. But slaves in Galveston, Texas didn’t learn of the proclamation until June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived in the area and shared the information. This day became known as Juneteenth.

Ohio University and Athens have a significant and rich black history. Some of the history was on display ahead of the UO’s official June 18 celebration on June 18. Vanessa Morgan, associate director of diversity and inclusion programs and co-chair of the June 19 planning committee, said that prior to the start of the festival, an organized health walk was held and highlighted Black historic sites in the region for the participants. Morgan also said it was an opportunity for people to learn visually before coming together at the Juneteenth festival.

“It’s a small group so you 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 attended. The festival went through a lot of planning, and Morgan said people from across the university helped out however they could.

“We’re very intentional about our partners, but when it comes to planning, we just wanted to make sure 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 meaning of the celebration, and then also have a good time and spend time together in the name (of the party).”

One of the aims of the festival was to create a sense of belonging. Duane Bruce, Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusion, said Juneteenth’s recognition allows them to continue the core mission of OU and the Diversity and Inclusion Division, elevating diverse identities to the within the community.

“This June 19th celebration, even though it’s a big program and it looks like a party — and it’s meant to be because we’re celebrating a piece of history,” Bruce said. “We’re also educating a whole bunch of people who maybe haven’t been educated about the past. And that’s critically important.”

Bruce also said the United States still struggles 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 discover a piece of history that is often overlooked in education systems and curricula. People from surrounding communities and programs came together to raise awareness of the event and ask others to take action to help undo the damage and eternal damage that led to the party.

“I think this event is really, really important because it shines a light on American history,” Bruce said. “And a part of American history that a lot of people aren’t aware of. I think it’s a very important reminder that there are pieces of American history that we still need to unravel and that often people don’t know.”


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