SALT LAKE CITY — On June 19, 1865, over 300 million slaves gained their freedom when the widespread American practice of slavery officially ended. That day, known as Juneteenth, quickly became a symbol of celebration for many Black Americans, including James Jackson, the founder and executive director of the Utah Black Chamber.
For Jackson, Juneteenth represents more than just the emancipation of Black citizens.
“July 4, 1776 is the freedom of the United States from the British. But June 19, 1865 is the freedom of all Americans — period,” Jackson told KSL NewsRadio.
‘Independence to us’
On June 16, 156 years after the abolishment of slavery, Juneteenth became a federal holiday following the signature of President Joe Biden. Utah’s Governor quickly issued a declaration, honoring Juneteenth in the state.
The celebration of June 19 resonates with Jackson more so than Independence Day.
“It [Juneteenth] really means more to me than anything,” said Jackson. “This is when our community, the Black community, was totally free to live as Americans in a country that became an official country, you know, 90 years prior.”
July 4 for many Black Americans, Jackson says, is just that… the fourth of July.
“Independence to us,” Jackson continued, “is when we were freed from slavery back in 1865.”
But Jackson says the federal declaration of Juneteenth was sparked by a national uproar.
“Not only did it take till 2021, it took the murder of an innocent black man,” Jackson said, referring to the police killing of George Floyd. “That’s what’s more tragic than anything, and it took a tragedy for Congress, or someone, to finally recognize the importance of this particular holiday.”
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to recognize not only equality but equity here and our nation,” said Jackson.
Celebrating Juneteenth in Utah
Everyone can commemorate Juneteenth, even in Utah where the state is predominantly white, says Jackson. He says the first step is taking the time to commit to learning about the Black community.
“Talk to your Black friend, Black family members and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? I want to celebrate with you all.’ Come to our cookout. Come to all the events that are happening,” advised Jackson.
Utah has various Juneteenth celebrations every year. But “this year is probably the most active Juneteenth in Utah I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Jackson.
The 32nd annual Juneteenth celebration at the Ogden Amphitheater will be from noon to 9 p.m. A plethora of musical performances, activities will take place, as well as a “Mr. and Mrs. Juneteenth” pageant.
In Salt Lake City, a series of Juneteenth festivities are planned. Black Lives Matter Utah’s ‘Utah Black History Museum’ bus will be parked outside of the Leonardo Art Museum. The Utah Black Chamber’s exhibit ‘Sorting Out Race’ will also be open for people to walk through.
The Chamber is partnering with the Leonardo to create a permanent Black Museum in Utah.
Additional events around the state are also organized, including a Black business expo, that will occur later in the month.
“There are over 300 something Black businesses here in Utah,” said Jackson. “But there will be black-owned businesses at this Expo that you can go out learn about support, make purchases, eat and have a good time there as well.”
For more information on the expo, visit here.
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