Juneteenth is celebrated as a federal holiday for the first time with George Floyd statue unveiling

Juneteenth was celebrated as a federal holiday for the first time in US history Saturday, as Americans nationwide commemorated the end of slavery with a series of monumental events.

George Floyd statue was unveiled in Flatbush, New York City, Saturday morning in honor of the black man whose murder by a white cop last Memorial Day sparked a racial justice movement nationwide.

In Atlanta, a march was planned starting from the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached and led protests for voting rights, equal access to public services, and social and economic justice.

More than 800 companies publicly committed to observe the day, almost double the number that had joined the pledge last year, while many more are thought to have made last-minute plans to give their employees the day off after the day became a federal holiday for the first time. 

President Joe Biden signed a bill into law Thursday, declaring Saturday the first Juneteenth National Independence Day as he vowed not to ‘rest until the promise of equality if fulfilled for every one of us in every corner of this nation.’

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the US, with its name stemming from June 19 1865 when the last group of enslaved African Americans learned of their freedom under President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.    

A George Floyd statue was unveiled in Flatbush, New York City, Saturday morning in honor of the black man whose murder by a white cop last Memorial Day sparked a racial justice movement nationwide

A George Floyd statue was unveiled in Flatbush, New York City, Saturday morning in honor of the black man whose murder by a white cop last Memorial Day sparked a racial justice movement nationwide

A George Floyd statue was unveiled in Flatbush, New York City, Saturday morning in honor of the black man whose murder by a white cop last Memorial Day sparked a racial justice movement nationwide

In New York City, a six-foot statue of George Floyd was unveiled early Saturday morning at Brooklyn¿s Flatbush Junction

In New York City, a six-foot statue of George Floyd was unveiled early Saturday morning at Brooklyn¿s Flatbush Junction

In New York City, a six-foot statue of George Floyd was unveiled early Saturday morning at Brooklyn’s Flatbush Junction

Floyd's brother Terrence Floyd attended the unveiling, giving a speech to the crowds of people who gathered

Floyd's brother Terrence Floyd attended the unveiling, giving a speech to the crowds of people who gathered

Floyd’s brother Terrence Floyd attended the unveiling, giving a speech to the crowds of people who gathered

Concerts, rallies, art displays and protests were all planned for Saturday, setting off the biggest day of events and commemorations for Juneteenth in American history.

In New York City, a six-foot statue of George Floyd was unveiled early Saturday morning at Brooklyn’s Flatbush Junction, where it will stand for around three weeks before being moved to Union Square in Manhattan.

Floyd’s brother Terrence Floyd attended the unveiling, kneeling in front of the likeness of his brother and giving a speech to the crowds of people who gathered to mark the occasion.

Mayor Bill de Blasio kicked off the Big Apple’s weekend of Juneteenth events Friday night as he and First Lady Chirlane McCray attended a block party in St. Nicholas Park in the Harlem neighborhood, organized by the Mayor’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity. 

‘Today is a day to celebrate the strength of our ancestors. Remembering what they went through helps us put our own lives in perspective,’ McCray told attendees. 

Other events include a ‘Juneteenth in Queens’ week-long festival of virtual panel discussions set to conclude on Saturday with food trucks of jerk chicken and waffles, BBQ, as well as in-person live performances.

The initiative is spearheaded by Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, who sponsored legislation last year that made Juneteenth a state holiday.

Over in Atlanta, people are holding a march to follow in MLK Jr.’s footsteps from the iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church as part of a series of festivities and parades in the city, which has celebrated Juneteenth for years.

Mayor Bill de Blasio kicked off the Big Apple's weekend of Juneteenth events Friday night as he and First Lady Chirlane McCray attended a block party in St. Nicholas Park in the Harlem neighborhood (above)

Mayor Bill de Blasio kicked off the Big Apple's weekend of Juneteenth events Friday night as he and First Lady Chirlane McCray attended a block party in St. Nicholas Park in the Harlem neighborhood (above)

Mayor Bill de Blasio kicked off the Big Apple’s weekend of Juneteenth events Friday night as he and First Lady Chirlane McCray attended a block party in St. Nicholas Park in the Harlem neighborhood (above)

Dancers perform at the block party in Harlem Friday in celebration of Juneteenth which became a federal holiday

Dancers perform at the block party in Harlem Friday in celebration of Juneteenth which became a federal holiday

Dancers perform at the block party in Harlem Friday in celebration of Juneteenth which became a federal holiday 

The block party in the heart of Harlem was organized by the Mayor¿s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity

The block party in the heart of Harlem was organized by the Mayor¿s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity

The block party in the heart of Harlem was organized by the Mayor’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity

Richard Rose, the president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, said this year’s designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday resonates in the city often called the ‘cradle of the civil rights movement.’

‘While we celebrate, what we have to remember is that we must fight for our rights – in the ballot box, in the schools. And we have to stand up, city-to-city, across this nation,’ Rose said.

In Stone Mountain, a village of about 6,500 people just 20 miles northeast of Atlanta, Juneteenth is being celebrated for the first time this year.

Looming over the village is a nine-story high bas-relief of Confederate figures carved into a sprawling rock face, the largest monument to the pro-slavery legacy of the US South.

Meanwhile, in Colorado a flyover has been organized to honor the legacy of aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman, who in 1921 became the first African-American woman to earn a pilot’s license.

Deneen Smith, a 17-year-old Black high school student and aspiring pilot, is inspired by Coleman’s story.

Families celebrate the Juneteenth: Freedom Day Block Party outside the Lauderdale County Courthouse Friday in Florence, Alabama

Families celebrate the Juneteenth: Freedom Day Block Party outside the Lauderdale County Courthouse Friday in Florence, Alabama

Families celebrate the Juneteenth: Freedom Day Block Party outside the Lauderdale County Courthouse Friday in Florence, Alabama

People play the drums at the Juneteenth: Freedom Day Block Party in Florence, Alabama, Friday as celebrations begin

People play the drums at the Juneteenth: Freedom Day Block Party in Florence, Alabama, Friday as celebrations begin

People play the drums at the Juneteenth: Freedom Day Block Party in Florence, Alabama, Friday as celebrations begin 

A group of volunteers partnering with Grounded Strategies and Duquesne Light Company add a flower bed during a volunteer event in honor of Juneteeth, in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh Friday

A group of volunteers partnering with Grounded Strategies and Duquesne Light Company add a flower bed during a volunteer event in honor of Juneteeth, in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh Friday

A group of volunteers partnering with Grounded Strategies and Duquesne Light Company add a flower bed during a volunteer event in honor of Juneteeth, in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh Friday

Members of the Sankofa Dance & Drum Team perform at Point State Park for the Western Pennsylvania Juneteenth Celebration on Friday

Members of the Sankofa Dance & Drum Team perform at Point State Park for the Western Pennsylvania Juneteenth Celebration on Friday

Members of the Sankofa Dance & Drum Team perform at Point State Park for the Western Pennsylvania Juneteenth Celebration on Friday

‘That’s what Juneteenth means to me – independence and freedom for African Americans because of what our ancestors struggled through,’ Smith said.  

Over in Chicago, a dedicated ‘March For Us’ event will see demonstrators take a mile-long route in the city’s business district known as the Loop.

‘We celebrate Independence Day, so we would be remiss if we don’t celebrate the day that people who were worth three-fifths of the person finally became free and started this journey towards equality,’ said ‘March for Us’ organizer Ashley Munson.

Munson said that while strides have been made, recent incidents of police brutality toward black people and legislation in several US states that curtails voting rights show that much work still needs to be done 

Girls from a local black dance team perform during the annual Juneteenth block party at The Banks Friday in Cincinnati, Ohio

Girls from a local black dance team perform during the annual Juneteenth block party at The Banks Friday in Cincinnati, Ohio

Girls from a local black dance team perform during the annual Juneteenth block party at The Banks Friday in Cincinnati, Ohio

Harlem residents began celebrations in the New York City neighborhood with a block party put on by the city Friday

Harlem residents began celebrations in the New York City neighborhood with a block party put on by the city Friday

Harlem residents began celebrations in the New York City neighborhood with a block party put on by the city Friday  

Dancers perform in Harlem Friday to local residents as they celebrate the day when slavery officially ended in the US

Dancers perform in Harlem Friday to local residents as they celebrate the day when slavery officially ended in the US

Dancers perform in Harlem Friday to local residents as they celebrate the day when slavery officially ended in the US

Celebrations began in Florence, Alabama, Friday with a Juneteenth: Freedom Day Block Party outside the Lauderdale County Courthouse Friday where families gathered and musicians played the drums. 

This year, Juneteenth will be commemorated with more in-person events, as the US emerges from the coronavirus pandemic and more Americans get vaccinated.  

President Joe Biden put pen to paper at the White House on Thursday to sign the bill into law, with the first Juneteenth National Independence Day being observed on Saturday.  

It has been celebrated annually and has gone through many iterations – including Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day.

It is not clear how it came to be called Juneteenth National Independence Day, but Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said that America only ‘truly became the land of the free and the home of the brave’ when Union Army General George Granger freed the last saves in Texas in 1865. 

The ‘second Independence Day’: The 155-year push to make June 19th a federal holiday

Juneteenth has been considered America's 'second independence day' since June 19, 1865, when Union Army General George Granger walked into Galveston and declared the last slaves in Texas free

Juneteenth has been considered America's 'second independence day' since June 19, 1865, when Union Army General George Granger walked into Galveston and declared the last slaves in Texas free

Juneteenth has been considered America’s ‘second independence day’ since June 19, 1865, when Union Army General George Granger walked into Galveston and declared the last slaves in Texas free

Juneteenth, the day marking the emancipation of slaves in the US, has been made a federal holiday – after 155 years.

President Joe Biden put pen to paper at the White House on Thursday to sign the bill into law, with the first Juneteenth National Independence Day being observed tomorrow.

In the past the day has been marked as ‘Emancipation Day’.  

It is not clear how it came to be called Juneteenth National Independence Day, but Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said that America only ‘truly became the land of the free and the home of the brave’ when Union Army General George Granger freed the last saves in Texas in 1865.

When she introduced the bill in 2020, she said: ‘[Juneteenth] commemorates freedom while acknowledging the sacrifices and contributions made by courageous African Americans towards making our great nation the more conscious and accepting country that it has become. 

‘It was only after that day in 1865, on the heels of the most devastating conflict in our country’s history, in the aftermath of a civil war that pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor and threatened to tear the fabric of our union apart forever, that America truly became the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ 

Vice President Kamala Harris noted in her speech that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was built by slaves.

The bill passed through Congress, with only 14 Republicans rejecting the measure, citing ‘confusion’ with July 4, a left-wing ‘push for identity politics’ and there being too many federal holidays in the US already.

But Juneteenth has been considered America’s ‘second independence day’ since June 19, 1865, when Union Army General George Granger walked  into Galveston and declared the last 250,000 slaves in Texas free.

Abraham Lincoln outlawed slavery with the the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, but enforcing the law was dependent on whether the Union army could reach the  

It has been celebrated annually and has gone through many iterations – including Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day. 

Now it is a national holiday that has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

President Biden on Thursday said it was one of the ‘greatest honors’ of his presidency. He called slavery a ‘moral stain’ and the ‘original sin’ that still impacts the US today.  VP Harris said it was important to ‘teach our children’ the part of American history. 

WHAT IS JUNETEENTH? THE DAY THE LAST SLAVES WERE FREED IN TEXAS 

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and 19th, also is known as Emancipation Day. 

It commemorates the day in 1865, after the Confederate states surrendered to end the Civil War, when a Union general arrived in Texas to inform the last group of enslaved African Americans of their freedom under President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

An Emancipation Day celebration in Austin, Texas, in 1900. Juneteenth has been celebrated annually and has gone through many iterations - including Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day. Now it is a national holiday that has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans

An Emancipation Day celebration in Austin, Texas, in 1900. Juneteenth has been celebrated annually and has gone through many iterations - including Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day. Now it is a national holiday that has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans

An Emancipation Day celebration in Austin, Texas, in 1900. Juneteenth has been celebrated annually and has gone through many iterations – including Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day. Now it is a national holiday that has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans

It came about two months after Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered in Appomattox, Virginia. 

Granger put the Emancipation Proclamation into effect and it became law. Since African-Americans have marked the day across the country and many states have followed by making it an official holiday. 

Juneteenth activist Opal Lee was recognized by President Joe Biden at the White House celebration where the president made Juneteenth a federal holiday

Juneteenth activist Opal Lee was recognized by President Joe Biden at the White House celebration where the president made Juneteenth a federal holiday

Juneteenth activist Opal Lee was recognized by President Joe Biden at the White House celebration where the president made Juneteenth a federal holiday 

In 1980, Texas became the first state to officially declare it a holiday. The passing of the bill is celebrated by a statue of State Rep. Al Edwards (D-Houston), who introduced the legislation in 1979.

It is now recognized in 46 other states and the District of Columbia. Major companies such as Twitter and Square have also marked it as a company day off and it is recognized by brands including Nike and Target.

Opal Lee, 94, the ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth’, was at the White House signing alongside President Biden and VP Kamala Harris. 

On June 19, 1939, when she was 12 years old, a white mob stormed her home in Marhsall, Texas, and burned it. When she retired as an elementary school teacher in 1977 and then dedicated her life to activism.

In 2016, she embarked on 1,400 mile walk from Fort Worth to Washington D.C. to urge the Obama administration to make June 19th a national holiday.

Although in part a celebration, the day is also observed solemnly to honor those who suffered during slavery in the United States with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans over 400 years ago.

Many cities across the country hold huge parades and festivals.

This year, Galveston will unveil a 5,000-square-foot memorial called ‘Absolute Equality’  on the spot where Granger told the slaves they were free. 

WHAT MADE IT MORE SIGNIFICANT LAST YEAR AND HOW HAVE CALLS GROWN TO MAKE IT A FEDERAL HOLIDAY? 

A statue of Texas State Rep. Al Edwards in Galveston, who introduced legislation in 1979 to make Juneteenth a holiday

A statue of Texas State Rep. Al Edwards in Galveston, who introduced legislation in 1979 to make Juneteenth a holiday

A statue of Texas State Rep. Al Edwards in Galveston, who introduced legislation in 1979 to make Juneteenth a holiday 

Last year, Juneteenth coincided with global protests against racial injustice sparked by the May 25, 2020 death of Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody.

It also accompanied the coronavirus outbreak, which disproportionately affected communities of color. Donald Trump, who had already been under fire for his response to both crises, drew further criticism for scheduling a re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He since moved it to the next day.

Tulsa is an important and especially sensitive site where a white mob massacred African-American residents in 1921.   

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the massacre, and helped the push for calls for reparations for victims.  

Community organizations nationwide devoted the day to discussions on policing and civil rights ahead of the November election.

HOW DO PEOPLE MARK THE DAY? WIDESPREAD MARCHES AND PARADES

People marked the 155th anniversary across the country with festive meals and gatherings. While many cities canceled annual parades because of the pandemic, other groups opted for virtual conferences or smaller events.

In Washington, groups planed marches, protests and rallies. Amid the wave of racial justice protests, some U.S. businesses committed to a change of policies, including recognition of the holiday.

Among the companies that announced they will recognize Juneteenth as a paid company holiday are the National Football League, The New York Times, Twitter and Square.

People pose in front of the Al Edwards statue in Galveston on June 19, 2020

People pose in front of the Al Edwards statue in Galveston on June 19, 2020

People pose in front of the Al Edwards statue in Galveston on June 19, 2020 

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