The movement behind recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday has been in the works by activists for years and now, supporters behind it are sharing their vision for what sort of impact the holiday will bring.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and informed enslaved African-Americans that the Civil War had ended and they were free.
Granger's message came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and about two months after the end of the Civil War.
President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law Thursday, officially making June 19 a federal holiday.
Rev. Michael Bell, a senior pastor at Greater St. Stephen Church in Fort Worth, admits he was not fully confident the measure would pass.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen. When it was rushed through the Senate, and the House passed it,” Bell said Thursday. “It was Nina Simone who said slavery has never ended in America’s thinking. Well, this is an opportunity for us to engage in helpful, healthy conversations.”
Bell said it is his hope the newly established federal holiday will inspire ‘healing conversations’ and will not be commercialized. Bell added while it has the potential to make an impact, it is completely up to the public on how it will be treated.
“We understand our differences. Those differences resonate loudly, but where are those places, common ground, where we want to reach and start building the kind of respect we ought to have?” he questioned. “If someone sees me as a threat and we have a healing conversation, and we talk about detritus of slavery, the legacy of slavery, instead of denying it, then maybe we can make some progress.”
Several Juneteenth events are scheduled across North Texas this weekend, including one Thursday night honoring Opal Lee of Fort Worth. Lee is considered a champion behind the movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday, leading the 2.5 mile walk every year on June 19.
Another event begins on Friday and lasts through Sunday. It is being hosted by Jim Austin with the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum and set up as a virtual music festival on jimaustinonline.com.
Austin said it’s a celebration that also includes history.
“Each band will play for 50 minutes and between the bands for 10 minutes, we will highlight facts about Juneteenth and letting people know the importance of highlighting this holiday,” he said. “It was 2.5 years until we found out that we were free, so you can imagine the history of Juneteenth.”
The date is already celebrated as a state or ceremonial holiday in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Texas became the first to make it a state holiday in 1980.
According to the Office of Personnel Management, most federal employees will observe the holiday Friday, June 18 as June 19 falls on a Saturday this year.