CLEVELAND (WJW) — Juneteenth celebrations were held across the country on Friday, including here in Northeast Ohio.
The holiday, sometimes called ‘black independence day’ is taking on a whole new significance this year.
The holiday may be new to some, but many Americans, especially African-Americans, have been celebrating Juneteenth for generations. Now, as the nation wrestles with issues of justice and equality, the annual celebration is magnified with some calls to even make it a national holiday.
More than 300 vehicles filed into the Mayfield Drive-in in Chardon Friday evening for a Juneteenth celebration featuring music and movies.
“It is a day of unity, discussing and celebrating our freedom,” explained organizer Larese Purnell.
Organizers say with so much unrest taking place across the nation, the free event is a way to bring positivist into the community.
“It’s really about commemorating freedom and the African-American experience and journey to freedom and really use that as an opportunity to connect with each other and plan and strategize on how we continue to fight for the freedoms that we still have been denied,” said Cleveland NAACP president Danielle Sydnor.
Juneteenth refers to June 19th, 1865, marking the day some of the last enslaved black people in the United States in Galveston, Texas learned they were free.
The notice arrived two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation formally freed slaves.
“We just really tried to put a real point into, like, being joyfully black and southern, because it is a Southern holiday,” said Tatyana Atkinson.
Atkinson is head of a newly-organized group called Safer Heights, which held Juneteenth barbeque in Coventry Peace Park in Cleveland Heights.
It included a diverse crowd enjoying food, fun and fellowship.
“It’s not something that I’ve known about for a long time, but I think that it’s so important that I think this should be Independence Day, I think when all Americans gain freedom, that Americans, being Juneteenth, that’s the day that we should be celebrating as a country,” said Jessica Deveney
Sylvia Boxley brought her daughter Jade to educate her about the past to inspire her future.
“We all have our differences, but we can still get along,” said Jade Hodrick.
“Not only did COVID-19 cause us to be separated, but there are a lot of things that have been happening in society that keep us away from each other, so this was a great opportunity for people to just come back and be unified around a common mission and goal,” Sydnor said.