That there was not one, but two, Juneteenth events in Surry County over the weekend as the holiday enters its second year of official recognition after decades of less formalized but no less exuberant celebrations.
If you missed the events last weekend, fear not for Juneteenth events will be a fixture of mid-June revelry going forward in Surry County and across the United States.
“As we celebrate Black heritage, liberation, freedom and the great progress we have made, we must continue to be aware that systemic racism still persists,” Gov. Roy Cooper said last week. “Although we’ve come a long way since 1865, there’s more work to do.”
Juneteenth commemorates the events of June 19, 1865, which is where the name derives. On that day U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed the enslaved Black people of their freedom after cessation of combat in the Civil War. It had been two and half years since President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth was made a federal holiday when President Biden signed it into law on June 17, 2021. Now more states and the District of Columbia are recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday and are offering it as a paid day off to state employees.
While knowledge and awareness of the holiday is increasing among the public, there is still a way to go and obstacles to overcome in acceptance. In June, nearly 60% of Americans said they knew about the holiday, compared with 37% in May 2021, according to a Gallup poll.
Mount Airy’s event on Saturday reflected a similar attitude with members of the community passing in, around, and through the Juneteenth festival in the Market Street Arts and Entertainment District with some not aware they were doing so.
That did not diminish the spirit of the event nor its participants. Even those passing through what one visitor referred to as “a pop-up fair” stopped to browse at vendor booths or gaze up at the visage of the giant Melva Houston from Melva’s Alley.
Young kids ran around as the grownups parked themselves at picnic tables or under shade on a warm day. Folks were coming in and out of the area waiting for the toast of the celebratory Juneteenth red drink and then to groove down to the sounds of Aquarius Moon.
It was a fun event in Mount Airy to mark a day of great significance to the nation, but the holiday creates angst for some others. There has been some resistance from state legislatures that suggests the acrimony that arose out of efforts to make the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a paid holiday throughout the country. After President Ronald Reagan signed Dr. King’s birthday into federal law in 1983, Arizona was the last state to adopt the Dr. King holiday, waiting until 1992.
It took intervention from the National Football League in the form of pulling Super Bowl XXVII from Tempe and big-name recording artists boycotting the state before voters changed course in late 1992. Arizona got there despite the best efforts of politicians to stop it; the voters got it done. Tempe was granted another opportunity after the vote, getting Super Bowl XXX three years later.
Michelle Obama has said of Juneteenth, “What I love is that even in that extended wait, we still find something to celebrate. Even though the story has never been tidy, and Black folks have had to march and fight for every inch of our freedom, our story is nonetheless one of progress.”
The late Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Dr. King said of such progress, “Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won; you earn it and win it in every generation.”