In spite of steady rain on Saturday, there was an extra sense of excitement among those attending the Troy University Rosa Parks Museum’s Juneteenth Block Party on the Montgomery Campus.
Some of Saturday’s excitement stemmed from the return to an in-person event after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed last year’s commemoration online. Most of the excitement, however, was the result of President Joe Biden’s signing of legislation declaring Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Observed annually on June 19, Juneteenth is the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, commemorating the date in 1865 when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops landed at Galveston Texas with the news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were free.
Tents lined each side of the 200 block of Montgomery Street as food and merchandize vendors braved the elements to serve a steady stream of visitors to the celebration. The event also featured free admission to the museum and the Children’s Wing, provided a children’s play area and included entertainment from local musicians.
“We’ve had a much better crowd than I expected given the weather,” said Donna Beisel, Assistant Director of the museum. “People seem to have been excited to come out and celebrate in spite of the rain.”
Beisel said the recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday did seem to generate an additional amount of excitement that even the remnants of a tropical storm couldn’t douse.
“I think it is long overdue, but I’m glad that we as a nation have recognized Juneteenth as national holiday,” Beisel said. “When we started this five years ago, many people didn’t know what Juneteenth was. It has been in the news more and more and with the recent action by Congress and the President, more people are now aware of the significance of the day and why it is important that we celebrate it as a national holiday.”
Comedienne JOY, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Clean,” has served as emcee for the museum’s Juneteenth celebration the last few years. She admitted that this year’s celebration had a bit of a special meaning behind it.
“I think it definitely puts a different spin on it this year not only because of what it meant to free the slaves, but now we truly have this moment to celebrate as a recognized holiday,” she said. “It has been a long time coming. We are still dealing with some of the same issues today related to skin color that we have been for so long now. We need to get past that because we are all human beings, and if we looked at each other as human beings and brothers and sisters, we could accomplish so much more. It is time to move forward and stop talking about the same things over and over.”
Dr. Kathryn Tucker, a lecturer in Troy University’s Department of History, called the national holiday designation an important step forward for the nation.
“The recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is an important step forward in recognizing the challenges, and also the accomplishments of African Americans in the U.S.,” Dr. Tucker said. “African Americans played a pivotal role in pushing the nation toward emancipation during the Civil War, and Juneteenth has historically been their celebration of that freedom that they fought so hard for. As a new federal holiday, Juneteenth now invites all of us to grapple with the ongoing impact of racial oppression, but, just as importantly, to celebrate the spirit of resistance, freedom, and diversity that enriches our nation.”