CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This year is a Juneteenth celebration unlike any other. There have been widespread celebrations across the country, and for many, it’s the first time they’re celebrating in the holiday’s 155-year history.
The historic day, marks the date in 1865 when the last remaining slaves found out they were free.
Now, amid weeks of protests and reflection, millions of people across the country and in Charlotte are remembering the historic day.
Gov. Roy Cooper proclaimed Juneteenth in North Carolina Friday.
In a video sent out on Twitter, he said Friday is a reminder that even 155 years after slaves were told they were free, we’re still fighting for change.
“It’s critical that we take on these disparities that the black communities continue to face,” Cooper said. “I’m committed to creating real change in our state that provides protection and opportunity for all North Carolinians.”
There’s a national push to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. A group of Senate Democrats announced Friday that they would introduce the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
There was food, dancing and music in Plaza Midwood.
“It is a significant piece of American history that needs to be celebrated,” said Pape Ndiaye, president of the Juneteenth Festival and owner of the House of Africa. “I started here in the heart of Plaza Midwood 23 years ago. It gotten so big that I had to move it to Independence Park. Did it there for 10 years, then Juneteenth came back. Now here where it started.”
“Today, the drums are playing the dancers are dancing,” historian Tom Hanchett said. “It’s really special to be here for Juneteenth.”
Channel 9 spoke with Hanchett about the recent focus on the holiday.
“Juneteenth, if you know African American history, well, you’ll go, ‘I always knew about that, but a lot of folks don’t know about African American history,’” Hanchett said. “And this spring, with the murder of George Floyd and all of the other things, there has been a crescendo in interest in our history. Yes, African American history is all of our history.”
The festival on Thomas Street will continue through the weekend.
There have been celebrations going on all day Friday at Marshall Park and Freedom Park in uptown.
A lot of people in Freedom park told Channel 9′s Elsa Gillis that this was one of a couple Juneteenth events they had gone to or were planning to go to.
One group of people said they are happy to see more people finally recognizing the holiday.
Channel 9 saw a lot of families at the events and one woman said it felt good to get out of the house amid the quarantine, even with masks on, and especially to teach children about the importance of the holiday.
“We wanted to get this kids out here. Everybody knows, you know, when slaves were free, but no one really puts emphasis on it. So I’m just really excited with everything going on the Black Lives Matter movement. It feels really good to be out here celebrating,” Ashlee Brannon said.
“Freedom Park. I mean the name in and of itself,” Rah Giovanny said. “Even though we’re not collective because of social distancing and things like that, at the same time, to look around and see the multitude of people showing up. That means everything. That means everything.”
Another event was the Charlotte NAACP “Breaking the Chains” Juneteenth celebration at Marshall Park.
Channel 9′s Tina Terry was at the events, where she said thousands of people celebrated.
NAACP President Corinne Mack said recent officer-involved shootings nationwide and protests against racism, police brutality and social injustice have made people want to remember and celebrate the Juneteenth holiday in a greater way.
“I celebrated last year at Plaza Midwood, and it wasn’t that impactful or this influencing,” Jason David said. “My celebrations have been more private with family. This is the first time to engage with the crowd.”
Many people hope that commemorating the end of slavery will bring a greater awareness of how far we’ve come and increase conversation about where we should go as a nation.
Lauren Hatcher, 11, bravely spoke in front of a crowd of her peers, teens and adults Friday.
“For me, it’s a very sad matter to focus on because I got very emotional when I saw the death of George Floyd ‘cause it wasn’t actually right for somebody do that. And no one should be afraid of police when they go outside, especially black people,” Hatcher said.
Hatcher said people need to focus on how everyone can all be treated equally.
“More diverse in schools. I’m the only black child in my class, and nobody should have to experience being the only black child,” Hatcher said.
Ari and Enoa Gibson, and Kiersten Hash organized Friday’s rally at Marshal Park to give people, such as Hatcher, a chance to be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement in a safe environment. They encouraged teens, kids and their families to come out for the rally.
“It’s great for the community see that young people are really involved and are really pushing for change, and won’t stop until we see something we’re satisfied with,” Enoa Gibson said.
Kayla Abercrombie attended the rally. She said, “This definitely helps, you know, create a space where we can come together and show Charlotte, show the world ... that today’s generation is fighting for.”
At the rally, people spoke, chanted and sang before marching through the park.
Some said they also went to recognize Juneteenth, also know as the modern day black Independence Day.
This year, several companies in Charlotte and across the United States are observing it as a paid company holiday.
“It’s a really important day to be here, and we’re just trying as much we can,” Tiffany Jacob said.
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