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Juneteenth: Celebrate nation's newest federal holiday in Tucson

The United States' newest federal holiday is coming up this weekend - Juneteenth. President Joe Biden signed the legislation on June 17, 2021, making June 19 a federal holiday. But what exactly does Juneteenth commemorate?

"The festival is about freedom," said Larry Starks, president of the board for the Tucson Juneteenth Festival. "It's about family. It's about equity, you know, on the backs of people that were really wrongfully held for over two years when they should've been free."

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 with the intention of freeing slaves in states that had seceded from the Union. South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas — the original seven states which formed the Confederacy in February, 1861— all had a plantation economies that relied on slave labor.

Despite the proclamation, it took more than two year for the news to reach slaves in Texas. On June 19, 1865, Union troops traveled to Galveston to free those who were still enslaved. Black Americans, especially in Texas, have been commemorating Juneteenth for generations. This holiday is not only a chance to celebrate the heritage, triumphs and advances of Blacks in America, but is also an opportunity to spread awareness about challenges they still face in their daily lives, such as poor access to healthcare, racism, police brutality, and job inequities.

"After they learned of their freedom, they went out and did things they couldn't do," Starks said. "Which was go and dress up in their Sunday clothes, their best clothes. They ate the food they couldn't eat. They drank drinks they couldn't drink. Join the families they couldn't. And it was a good atmosphere for them to celebrate."

Here in Tucson, there are several events around town that residents can attend to participate in this holiday.

2022 Tucson Juneteenth Festival

The event will take place on June 18th from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Kennedy Park Fiesta Area at 3357 S. La Cholla Blvd. There will be food trucks, live music, a kid zone, free toys, vendors and more.

It will be followed by a free Father's Day luncheon and Gospel Jubilee on June 19 from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Dunbar Pavilion.

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Black Joy: Juneteenth Market

Located at the Downtown Clifton Hotel Tucson at 485 S. Stone Avenue, the market will feature local Black-owned businesses for attendees who want to do some shopping. It will run June 17 - 18 from 5 - 8 p.m. Community members will be able to stroll around the market with a drink or a snack from Red Light Lounge in hand.

Juneteenth Story Hour at Littlest Bookshop Tucson — hosted by Drag Story Time Arizona  

For those looking for something more low-key and a smaller crowd, a good option is Drag Story Hour at Littlest Bookshop Tucson. Felicia Minor and Sassy C. Diazz will be reading books and sharing lessons about Black American history, Juneteenth and racism. The event will take place on June 19 from 1 - 2 p.m. at 5011 E. 5th Street. While it's a free event, registration is required. Check-in starts at 12:30 p.m.  

Thee 6Lack Day Party & Concert

On June 19 from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., Antoine Moore, AKA DJ Impeccable, will be hosting a day party and a concert by the Street Blues Family. The event will be at The Rock at 136 N. Park Avenue. General admission is $7.72 plus a $2.28 fee. The ticket covers entry for both the party and the concert. There will also be complimentary finger foods while available.

Juneteenth Freedom Day, a community celebration

This event will take place on June 17 from 5 - 11 p.m. at Vista del Pueblo Park. There will be food and live performances by Method to the Madness, Freddy Jay Walker, Just Najima Dan, OBEY, Angelfood, Rout Gore, and Benny. This event is free.

University of Arizona's Beyond Juneteeth

For those who are fans of local radio, the Beyond Juneteenth committee and KXCI radio station are teaming up to provide stories from Tucson community members about Juneteenth. They will air June 18 and 19. Tune your radios to 91.3 FM or visit kxci.org to listen. They will also be hosting a webinar panel on June 20 at noon about Black scholars. This virtual event does require registering in advance. If you'd like to submit questions for the panel, you may also do so in advance.

Bianca Morales is TucsonSentinel.com’s Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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Tucson Juneteenth Festival

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