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The joy and history of Juneteenth

Juneteenth_Durham_by_Denise_Allen.jpg
Denise Allen
/
For WUNC
Juneteenth processional in 2021 down Main Street in Durham, NC

Last year, Juneteenth was designated an official federal holiday. This year, the celebrations are bigger and more historic.

Cities and towns across North Carolina are preparing for some of their biggest Juneteenth celebrations in years.

Last year, Juneteenth was designated a federal holiday. June 19, 1865, is the day the last enslaved African Americans were officially notified of their freedom.

This weekend, there are plans for everything from a special Juneteenth performance in Cary by the North Carolina Symphony, to words of wisdom in Fayetteville from North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green.

“It’s important for us to embrace the spirit of Juneteenth, it is embracing freedom,” said Green. “Read Black books, teach your children about generational wealth, celebrate Juneteenth everyday.”

Leesa Jones heads the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum in Beaufort County. Jones says this year’s Juneteenth event will include the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation outside First Presbyterian Church, where it was originally read in 1863.

“So that’s what makes Washington so specific because we know where the Emancipation Proclamation was read from,” said Jones. “So we’re going to go back to that original location and beginning our morning services at that place.”

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, during the Civil War. But it took two more years before the proclamation was read and enslaved people were freed in Texas.

The proclamation also formally accepted Black men into the Union Army and Navy, “enabling the liberated to become liberators,” according to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Phyllis Coley, of Spectacular Magazine, is the Juneteenth state director and organizer of the 17th annual Juneteenth celebration in Durham.

Coley says this year will feature music, a fashion show, and a health fair. But for the first time, it will include a U.S. Colored Troops encampment.

“You know the people who come are really seeking knowledge,” said Coley. “As much as entertainment and food and fun, you know, they’re really coming seeking knowledge.”

The encampment and celebration will be at Golden Belt, off Main Street in Durham. Check out WUNC’s list of Juneteenth events across North Carolina.

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