This week marks the first time Detroit recognizes Juneteenth as a paid holiday for city workers.
The federal government officially recognized the holiday last year and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign a bill making it a state holiday after Michigan legislators voted in support of similar legislation earlier this month.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the emancipation of slaves in the area against defiant slaveholders — months after the Confederate army had surrendered. In the years that followed, former enslaved people and their families began their own celebrations commemorating the event.
Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth as an official holiday in 1980.
Since then, local communities have followed the tradition, creating their own celebrations in Southeast Michigan.
Representatives from Madison Heights Citizen United and the Charles H. Wright Museum joined Detroit Today to discuss Juneteenth celebrations across Metro Detroit.
Listen: How local communities are celebrating Juneteenth
Keleila and Kevin Wright are a husband and wife duo that started Madison Heights Citizens United, producing Juneteenth events in the city for the past three years. They say the events help foster important conversations in the community.
“I think, as people see what we’re talking about, people come together and they start talking,” says Keleila Wright. “And they see it’s not just a Black holiday, and they come and embrace it.”
“I always like to say that Juneteenth doesn’t compete with the Fourth of July, it completes the Fourth of July,” adds Kevin Wright, “Because of the day that all Americans became free.”
Yolanda Jack is the Manager of Community Engagement for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. She says the museum will begin its Juneteenth celebration Monday at noon.
“We will have a great array of performances, storytelling, African drumming and dancing,” says Jack. “It’ll just be a variety of presentations and performances for people to just come enjoy [and] connect to the history, the commemoration of freedom, and the idea of the importance of that value that we have here in the United States.”