Recent racial injustice, protests spur interest in Juneteenth

Recent racial injustice, protests spur interest in Juneteenth
A new BLACK LIVES MATTER street painting in front of Birmingham Railroad Park was completed for the Juneteenth celebration. (Jay Parker / Alabama NewsCenter)

As racial injustice has become front page news, spurred protests across the country and opened uncomfortable conversations about race, many Alabamians are gearing up to celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States in 1865.

Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared an end to slavery on Jan. 1, 1863, the news didn’t reach Texas, the most remote slave state, until two years later. On June 19, 1865, Union troops in Galveston proclaimed that all slaves were free.

Celebrations started the next year and spread through the South and across the rest of the country. Most states along with the District of Columbia now recognize June 19 – what came to be known as Juneteenth – as either a state or ceremonial holiday.

“The heightened interest in Juneteenth is due mostly to the events of the past several weeks.” says Dr. Derryn Moten, acting chair and professor of History and Political Science at Alabama State University. “The murder of several African-Americans has played a role in people of all ethnicities now becoming interested in the history of Black America from slavery to the present day, plus this being the month of June coinciding with the anniversary of Juneteenth.”

Cities across Alabama will celebrate the annual holiday in various ways in conjunction with the Black Lives Matter movement.  Black Lives Matter is a “network that builds power to bring justice, healing and freedom to black people” around the world, according to its website. The organization was formed in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.

With a goal of having the project finished by Juneteenth, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin gave the green light to have a Black Lives Matter mural painted on a Southside street adjacent to Regions Field in the Railroad Park District. This mural is similar to the one painted in Washington, D.C. following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The Birmingham unveiling will occur today.

The Southern Poverty Law Center Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center)

“As people across the nation look for ways to participate in this movement for justice, we must also remember and honor those who came before us in the march for justice.” says Tafeni English, director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery.

“This year’s celebration takes place during a moment of national crisis. There is a collective sense of frustration and devastation as we confront the entrenchment of racism and oppression in our systems of government, education, housing, voting, labor, health care and justice that endures more than a century after the last remaining enslaved Black Americans were freed,” she said.

To commemorate this year’s Juneteenth celebration, the city of Montgomery, in connection with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial, will hold a Juneteenth Vigil at 3 p.m. to remember the millions of black people who were enslaved in the U.S.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute)

Also in Montgomery, Troy University’s Rosa Park Museum will host free tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, social distancing will apply and face covering is mandatory.

In Birmingham, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is honoring activist, author and Birmingham native Dr. Angela Y. Davis with the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award at 7 p.m. in an online event. The virtual event will feature a conversation between Davis and moderator D. Wendy Greene, a professor at Drexel University. For more information, visit here.

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