Juneteenth is an annual celebration to honor the historical events leading to the freedom of African slaves in the United States. The Phoenix, Arizona, celebration was held Saturday, June 14, at South Mountain Community College.
The Arizona Juneteenth committee has created a Web site at vosjuneteenth.com that includes information for anyone interested in the history of the event of for information to perform or sign up as a vendor for the festivities. According to their site, Juneteenth was prompted by actions in Galveston, Texas, where Texas confederate forces in the Civil War had not heard of Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865 and continued to battle Union forces well into May.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union army took command of the military district of Texas and read General Order #3, which says, “The people of Texas are informed…all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves,” according to vosjuneteenth.com.
At the end of the war, over one-third of Texans were slaves. June 19 became their independence day and remained an important day often recognized with prayer services, speeches, picnics and various celebrations. Throughout the years, the celebration declined until January 1980 when the Texas legislature declared June 19 to be Emancipation Day in Texas, and recognized it as a legal state holiday.
Many festival celebrations were held across the county. The Phoenix-area festival included an African American marketplace, ethnic foods, a Blue Cross Blue Shield health and wellness area with free health screenings, and entertainment stage with local musicians, a children’s pavilion with an educational component including an Underground Railroad exhibit.
In long standing tradition of the festival, the focus on family included “the Old School Family Reunion” area with games, music, a car showcase and an opportunity for families to get together.
Past Juneteenth celebrations have occurred in Tucson, Yuma, Chandler and various Phoenix locations.
The Phoenix New Times says the celebration is a “genuinely cool” event that includes “musical performances by 25-plus acts ranging in style from R&B to gospel to poetry to hip-hop.” (credit: Valley of the Sun Juneteenth Celebration, Phoenix New Times)
Phoenix regularly gets a jump on the June 19 event by celebrating on the Saturday before. Plans for next year’s celebration are certainly underway and more information is available at www.vosjuneteenth.com.