Salt Lake County honors Juneteenth, activists call for it to be a national holiday
Jun 19, 2020, 7:06 PM
(The Juneteenth flag, before it was raised outside the Salt Lake County complex. Credit: Paul Nelson)
SALT LAKE CITY – Salt Lake County is honoring the day known as Juneteenth, which is recognized as the day when the last of the slaves were freed in Texas in 1865. Hundreds attended the celebration, saying it’s time to end discrimination.
The song “Lift Every Voice And Sing” was sung as the Juneteenth flag was raised next to the American flag at the Salt Lake County complex on State Street near 2100 South. Speakers included Utah’s 4th Congressional District Representative Ben McAdams and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson. McAdams says Juneteenth was just a first step in an extremely long journey.
“No longer can we let the atrocities against Black Americans go unanswered,” he says.
Wilson says people need to begin the work of bridging the racial divide.
She says, “I say ‘begin’ because I don’t think we’ve done it. I think we have given some lip service to the challenge and it’s really time that we get over our fear.”
Event organizers say the day isn’t just about celebrating the history of emancipation or the artwork and culture of African Americans, but about education, also. Betty Sawyer is the Director of the Utah Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival and Holiday Committee. She grew up in Baltimore, and even she wasn’t familiar with Juneteenth before she moved to Utah.
Sawyer is pushing for Juneteenth to become a national holiday. She applauded the Utah Jazz for making it a company holiday, but she says the state should do more to mark the occasion.
“We’re going to go back and have a conversation with our governor and our legislators about making it a paid holiday, and not just a ‘day of observance,’” Sawyer says.
Along with Sawyer’s push for education, other people urged all African Americans to study the history of one of their ancestors. Utah Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society President Robert Burch says it’s up to the living to tell the stories of the dead.
“Otherwise, we will always only have one version of history in this country,” Burch says.