JACKSON, Miss — Mississippi communities are commemorating Juneteenth with events ranging from history-themed dinners to live music performances to street festivals. Most gatherings aim to tell a story about the significance of the nation’s newest federal holiday.
“Juneteenth is just not just a celebration of food and art. It’s a celebration of substance,” said Reena Evers-Everette, the daughter of Mississippi civil rights activists Medgar Evers and Myrlie Evers-Williams. “Juneteenth is about opening our eyes and our minds, gathering the courage to truly understand what our shared truths are."
The holiday commemorates the date when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. The proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, declared free all enslaved people in Confederate states. Some of the newly freed weren’t aware of their freedom until U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to enforce the proclamation.
“Juneteenth is about recognition that slavery was America’s first original sin. And we have for so long, put it underneath the rug, behind the barn," Evers-Everette said. "I think about what’s happening now, with the reversal, or attempts to reverse so many civil rights laws. Mississippi has come a long way, but there’s a long way to go to becoming a truly equal state.”
Juneteenth should be about sharing knowledge so that everyone can better understand our nation's racial history, said Pamela D.C. Junior, director of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson.
“If you don’t know why you’re celebrating, why celebrate?” she asked.
Admission is free all of Juneteenth weekend to the two museums, which weave the state’s history into stories told by archived material.
Also in Jackson, the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center hosted its first Victory Celebration Dinner on Friday with honored guests including Hezekiah Watkins, who was a young teenager when he and other activists were arrested in 1961 for challenging segregation in a Jackson bus terminal, and James Meredith, who in 1962 became the first Black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.
In Vicksburg, a Juneteenth Heritage Festival was taking place Saturday with the theme of “Celebrating Freedom.” In the Mississippi Delta region, Tunica County was hosting its 2nd Annual Juneteenth celebration.
President Joe Biden signed legislation in 2021 making Juneteenth a national holiday. The move marked the first time the federal government had designated a new holiday since approving Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. But several states, including Mississippi, opted not to follow the federal government’s lead to create a Juneteenth holiday.
In addition to celebrating social progress, some Mississippians view Juneteenth as a time to honor family history.
“I call out the names of my ancestors because I want them to understand that I will never forget them,” Junior said. “I want them to know that I will never let them down in anything that I do every day.”