‘The day America decided to do the right thing’: Juneteenth celebration planned for Juneau

Christina Michelle, her mother Sherry Patterson, and her sister-in-law Kelli Patterson are hosts of Culture Rich Conversations, a weekly radio program from the Juneau Black Awareness Association. (Photo by Rhonda McBride / KTOO)

Juneteenth will be celebrated this Sunday. It marks the day in 1865 that Texas slaves learned they were free. Even though President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, slaves in Texas didn’t know that until an Army general arrived to bring them the news.

For the Juneau Black Awareness Association, it is a reminder that Juneteenth is a work in progress — a celebration that has been slow to be embraced, even among the Black community.

“I’m embarrassed to say it’s not something I grew up learning about,” said Kelli Patterson, a member of the Juneau Black Awareness Association.

“I had heard of the holiday. I knew it was in June, but I didn’t know why,” Patterson said. “It probably wasn’t until Joe Biden signed legislation making it a federal holiday that I really started looking into it.”

That was last year.

Patterson also believes the social upheaval over the murder of George Floyd has sparked more interest in Juneteenth.

“I love that people are becoming more aware of our history outside of the Black community,” Patterson said. “When you think about 1865, that was not that long ago.”

She says that’s only five generations between her and ancestors who were slaves.

Although Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery after the Civil War, Patterson says, it’s become much more — a day dedicated to the dream of equality and justice for all, one that deserves recognition as a national holiday.

“Whether you’re Black, white, no matter your race, that’s the day America decided to do the right thing. And I think that’s a beautiful thing,” she said.

Patterson hopes Juneteenth will become like a second Independence Day for the nation. She says Juneteenth is also about recognizing the contributions of African American to the country and helping the next generation continue to achieve.

People in Juneau are invited to the Black Awareness Association’s Juneteenth celebration at Twin Lakes Park on Sunday. There will be speeches and entertainment, as well as hot dogs, ice cream and sweet potato pies. The event is a fundraiser for the association’s scholarship program.

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