When Juneteenth arrived last year, the annual holiday marking slavery’s end in the United States came amid a year filled with tragedy, loss, and crisis. On top of the pandemic, Minnesota was just weeks into processing George Floyd’s murder and its aftermath.
“With George Floyd, it really brought out the consciousness of the unevenness of society,” explains Lee Jordan, state and Midwest regional director for the national Juneteenth celebration. “I live right on 35W, so one of the protests that went on—not only did I see young people out there, but we also saw many cultures of people out there, joining in the chant.”
June 19, or Juneteenth, is the anniversary of when more than 250,000 enslaved persons in Texas got word of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865, two years after it had been signed. “I’ve been celebrating Juneteenth for 20-some years,” Jordan says. “I’ve been waiting for the world to catch up.”
Last year, he noticed a change in Juneteenth’s usual celebrations, with some cancellations and others popping up in their place. In the Twin Cities, this included an all-Black bike ride that stopped at Floyd’s memorial in south Minneapolis. Local artists and activists Paige Ingram and Junauda Petrus-Nasah organized the event. (You can register for this year’s here.)
“Getting out on the streets can have a strong impact on your body and your spirit, especially for Black folks,” Ingram explains. “What could we do to help people get back into their bodies? To get back into their relationship with the land that we’re on? To stake claim in public space that’s not necessarily in a protest?”
Petrus-Nasah adds, “As Black people, we could take up space but also be socially distant and enjoy Minneapolis.”
Many U.S. cities and states have officially designated Juneteenth as a holiday. Minneapolis became one of those cities this year on May 14, when the City Council approved Juneteenth as a city holiday. Programming will take place between July 13 and 19 in various locations throughout the city.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has not officially declared the day a state holiday. In 2020, Gov. Tim Walz issued a Juneteenth Freedom Day proclamation that called upon the Minnesota legislature to establish it as such.
It is still not a federal holiday, either, though lobbies and petitions aim to change that. In February, Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith joined a group of legislators reintroducing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in both the U.S. House and the Senate.
“Juneteenth is not just a Black holiday; it’s for everyone who values freedom,” notes Jordan. Especially after the events of 2020—which saw greater diversity in early protests than during previous movements for Black liberation, according to data collected from protesters in L.A., New York City, and D.C.—people from many walks of life have come together to acknowledge the truth and pain behind this historic event.
“Anyone who wants to get involved with Juneteenth, seek us out,” Jordan says. “Every heart and every hand should be on the plow. Even if you’re just having a barbecue in your backyard, that’s important, too.”
Many Juneteenth celebrations include picnics, family gatherings, parades, and guest speakers and performers. At press time in early spring, Jordan noted the possibility of pandemic-related restrictions. “But no matter what those restrictions are, Juneteenth’s voice will be heard in one way or another, in smaller gatherings, pop-ups, et cetera.
“But the message will still get out,” he continues. “The continued fight for a better community, better city, and a better world is everyone’s responsibility, no matter who you are.”