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Juneteenth explained: What is the holiday, why was it created and how should it be celebrated?

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Juneteenth explained: What is the holiday, why was it created and how should it be celebrated?
News

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Juneteenth explained: What is the holiday, why was it created and how should it be celebrated?

2024-06-18 23:07 Last Updated At:23:21

For more than one-and-a-half centuries, the Juneteenth holiday has been sacred to many Black communities.

It marks the day in 1865 enslaved people in Galveston, Texas found out they had been freed — after the end of the Civil War, and two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Since it was designated a federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has become more universally recognized beyond Black America. Many people get the day off work or school, and there are a plethora of street festivals, fairs, concerts and other events.

People who never gave the June 19 holiday more than a passing thought may be asking themselves, is there a “right” way to celebrate Juneteenth?

For beginners and those brushing up on history, here are some answers:

It just depends on what you want. Juneteenth festivities are rooted in cookouts and barbecues. In the beginnings of the holiday celebrated as Black Americans’ true Independence Day, the outdoors allowed for large, raucous reunions among formerly enslaved family, many of whom had been separated. The gatherings were especially revolutionary because they were free of restrictive measures, known as “Black Codes,” enforced in Confederate states, controlling whether liberated slaves could vote, buy property, gather for worship and other aspects of daily life.

Last week, the White House kicked things off early with a concert on the South Lawn for Juneteenth and Black Music Month. Singers Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle were among the the lineup of well-known artists from gospel, rap, jazz and other genres. The atmosphere was primarily festive with Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black vice president, dancing on stage with gospel singer Kirk Franklin.

“Today as we celebrate Juneteenth, together we are reminded of the promise of America,” Harris said in opening remarks. “A promise of freedom, liberty and opportunity, not for some but for all. In many ways the story of Juneteenth and of our nation is a story of our ongoing fight to realize that promise.”

Others may choose to treat Juneteenth as a day of rest and remembrance. That can mean doing community service, attending an education panel or taking time off.

The important thing is to make people feel they have options on how to observe the occasion, said Dr. David Anderson, a Black pastor and CEO of Gracism Global, a consulting firm helping leaders navigate conversations bridging divides across race and culture.

“Just like the Martin Luther King holiday, we say it’s a day of service and a lot of people will do things. There are a lot of other people who are just ‘I appreciate Dr. King, I’ll watch what’s on the television, and I’m gonna rest,’” Anderson said. “I don’t want to make people feel guilty about that. What I want to do is give everyday people a choice.”

Anderson never did anything on Juneteenth in his youth. He didn’t learn about it until his 30s.

“I think many folks haven’t known about it — who are even my color as an African American male. Even if you heard about it and knew about it, you didn’t celebrate it,” Anderson said. “It was like just a part of history. It wasn’t a celebration of history.”

For many African Americans, the farther away from Texas that they grew up increased the likelihood they didn’t have big Juneteenth celebrations regularly. In the South, the day can vary based on when word of Emancipation reached each state.

Search online and you will find a smorgasbord of gatherings in major cities and suburbs all varying in scope and tone. Some are more carnival-esque festivals with food trucks, arts and crafts and parades. Within those festivals, you’ll likely find access to professionals in health care, finance and community resources. There also are concerts and fashion shows to highlight Black excellence and creativity. For those who want to look back, plenty of organizations and universities host panels to remind people of Juneteenth’s history.

For the first time since Juneteenth was federally recognized, the National Park Service is making entry into all sites free on the holiday. Several parks will be hosting Juneteenth commemorations this week.

Aside from barbecue, the color red has been a through line for Juneteenth food for generations. Red symbolizes the bloodshed and sacrifice of enslaved ancestors. A Juneteenth menu might incorporate items like barbecued ribs or other red meat, watermelon and red velvet cake. Drinks like fruit punch and red Kool-Aid may make an appearance at the table.

Dr. Karida Brown, a sociology professor at Emory University whose research focuses on race, said there’s no reason to feel awkward about wanting to recognize Juneteenth just because you have no personal ties or you’re not Black. In fact, embrace it.

“I would reframe that and challenge my non-Black folks who want to lean into Juneteenth and celebrate,” Brown said. “It absolutely is your history. It absolutely is a part of your experience. ... Isn’t this all of our history? The good, the bad, the ugly, the story of emancipation and freedom for your Black brothers and sisters under the Constitution of the law.”

If you want to bring some authenticity to your recognition of Juneteenth, educate yourself. Attending a street festival or patronizing a Black-owned business is a good start but it also would be good to “make your mind better,” Anderson said.

“That goes longer than a celebration,” Anderson said. “I think Black people need to do it too because it’s new for us as well, in America. But for non-Black people, if they could read on this topic and read on Black history beyond Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, that would show me that you’re really serious about growing in this area.”

If you’re struggling with how to “ethically” mark the day, Brown also suggested expanding your knowledge of why the holiday matters so much. That can be through reading, attending an event or going to an African American history museum if there’s one nearby.

“Have that full human experience of seeing yourself in and through the eyes of others, even if that’s not your own lived experience,” she said. “That is a radical human act that is awesome and should be encouraged and celebrated.”

Over the decades, Juneteenth has also been called Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Black Fourth of July and second Independence Day among others.

“Because 1776, Fourth of July, where we’re celebrating freedom and liberty and all of that, that did not include my descendants,” Brown said. “Black people in America were still enslaved. So that that holiday always comes with a bittersweet tinge to it.”

It’s typical to wish people a “Happy Juneteenth” or “Happy Teenth," according to Alan Freeman, a comedian organizing a Juneteenth comedy festival in Galveston, Texas for the second straight year.

“You know how at Christmas people will say ‘Merry Christmas’ to each other and not even know each other?" Freeman said. “You can get a ‘Merry Christmas’ from everybody. This is the same way.”

Tang, who reported from Phoenix, is a member of The Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at @ttangAP.

FILE - Julien James carries his son, Maison, 4, holding a Pan-African flag to celebrate during a Juneteenth commemoration at Leimert Park in Los Angeles Saturday, June 18, 2022. Many Americans are celebrating Juneteenth, marking the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in the U.S. learned they were free. For generations, Black Americans have recognized the end of one of history’s darkest chapters with joy, in the form of parades, street festivals, musical performances or cookouts. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

FILE - Julien James carries his son, Maison, 4, holding a Pan-African flag to celebrate during a Juneteenth commemoration at Leimert Park in Los Angeles Saturday, June 18, 2022. Many Americans are celebrating Juneteenth, marking the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in the U.S. learned they were free. For generations, Black Americans have recognized the end of one of history’s darkest chapters with joy, in the form of parades, street festivals, musical performances or cookouts. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

FILE - President Joe Biden signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Washington. From left, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., Opal Lee, Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., obscured, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Majority Whip James Clyburn of S.C., Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

FILE - President Joe Biden signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Washington. From left, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., Opal Lee, Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., obscured, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Majority Whip James Clyburn of S.C., Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

FILE - Dancer Prescylia Mae, of Houston, performs during a dedication ceremony for the massive mural "Absolute Equality" in downtown Galveston, Texas, Saturday, June 19, 2021. The dedication of the mural, which chronicles the history and legacy of Black people in the United States, was one of several Juneteenth celebrations across the city. (Stuart Villanueva/The Galveston County Daily News via AP, file)

FILE - Dancer Prescylia Mae, of Houston, performs during a dedication ceremony for the massive mural "Absolute Equality" in downtown Galveston, Texas, Saturday, June 19, 2021. The dedication of the mural, which chronicles the history and legacy of Black people in the United States, was one of several Juneteenth celebrations across the city. (Stuart Villanueva/The Galveston County Daily News via AP, file)

FILE - Crystal Baziel holds the Pan-African flag Monday, June 19, 2023, during Reedy Chapel A.M.E Church's annual Juneteenth Family Fun Day, in Galveston, Texas. Many Americans are celebrating Juneteenth, marking the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in the U.S. learned they were free. For generations, Black Americans have recognized the end of one of history’s darkest chapters with joy, in the form of parades, street festivals, musical performances or cookouts. (Jennifer Reynolds/The Galveston County Daily News via AP, File)

FILE - Crystal Baziel holds the Pan-African flag Monday, June 19, 2023, during Reedy Chapel A.M.E Church's annual Juneteenth Family Fun Day, in Galveston, Texas. Many Americans are celebrating Juneteenth, marking the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in the U.S. learned they were free. For generations, Black Americans have recognized the end of one of history’s darkest chapters with joy, in the form of parades, street festivals, musical performances or cookouts. (Jennifer Reynolds/The Galveston County Daily News via AP, File)

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Over the past decade, Russia has seen a sharp increase in treason and espionage cases.

Lawyers and experts say prosecutions for these high crimes started to grow after 2014 — the year that Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. That’s also when Moscow backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

The number of treason and espionage cases in Russia really spiked after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, and President Vladimir Putin urged the security services to “harshly suppress the actions of foreign intelligence services (and) promptly identify traitors, spies and saboteurs.” The crackdown has ensnared scientists and journalists, as well as ordinary citizens.

A look at some treason cases prosecuted in Russia in recent years:

In April 2008, bakery worker Oksana Sevastidi saw military equipment on the railway near Sochi, the Russian Black Sea resort where she lived. She texted a friend who lived in neighboring Georgia about it. Weeks later, in August, the two countries fought a brief war, which ended with Moscow recognizing South Ossetia and another Georgian province, Abkhazia, as independent states and bolstering its military presence there.

Sevastidi was arrested in 2015, stemming from her text messages, and convicted of treason the following year. The case made national headlines after Ivan Pavlov and Evgeny Smirnov, prominent lawyers specializing in treason cases, took it on in 2016. That same year, Pavlov’s team revealed that several other Sochi women were convicted of treason in eerily similar cases.

President Vladimir Putin was asked about Sevastidi at his annual news conference in December 2016. He called her sentence “harsh” and promised to look into it, saying that “she wrote what she saw” in her texts and that it didn’t constitute a state secret. In 2017, Putin pardoned Sevastidi and two other women.

Ivan Safronov, a former journalist who went on to work for the Russian space agency Roscosmos, was arrested in 2020 and accused of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national. In September 2022, a court in Moscow convicted him of treason and sentenced him to 22 years in prison.

Safronov rose to prominence as a military affairs reporter for Kommersant, a leading business newspaper. He vehemently rejected the charges against him, arguing that he collected all the information from open sources as part of his journalistic work and did nothing illegal.

Colleagues denounced the verdict as unfounded and pushed for Safronov’s release, suggesting authorities may have wanted to punish him for his reporting about military and space incidents and arms deals.

His fiancee, Ksenia Mironova, told The Associated Press that she believes such treason cases, which are investigated in secret with trials held behind closed doors, are convenient for law enforcement because their accusations can go unchallenged:

“They don’t have to explain anything to anyone at all. Not that they bother anyway. … But (with open trials), there is still a chance that some unfortunate journalists will come and write something. With treason, the case is closed, and they can just concoct something, and that’s it,” said Mironova, who also is a journalist and has reported on the rise of treason prosecutions.

Valery Golubkin, now 71, was a physicist specializing in aerodynamics when he was arrested in 2021 and convicted of treason in June 2023. He was sentenced to 12 years in a maximum-security prison.

According to his lawyers, the authorities accused Golubkin of sharing state secrets with a foreign country. The scientist and his defense team argued that he merely submitted research reports on an international project of a hypersonic civilian aircraft that his state-run institute was involved in.

The reports didn’t contain state secrets and were vetted in accordance with regulations before they were sent abroad, according to lawyer Smirnov.

In a letter from behind bars to the Russian news outlet RBK in 2021, Golubkin said the project in question was approved by the Trade Ministry, and that the charges against him are based on the testimony of his supervisor, Anatoly Gubanov, who was arrested several months before Golubkin.

Gubanov, 66, also was convicted of treason and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2023.

Lawyers for Golubkin appealed his verdict and lost. In April 2024, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling on the appeal and ordered another review of it, but in the end, the original sentence was upheld.

His daughter, Lyudmila Golubkina, told AP that neither the family nor Golubkin have had high expectations after the Supreme Court ruling, and they now hope he can be released on parole after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

“When a person has something to live for, a goal, it helps them to overcome everything,” she said. “I hope we will still get to see him a free man.”

Igor Pokusin, a 62-year-old retired pilot who was born in Ukraine, was arrested in the southern Siberian city of Abakan, for protesting Russia's 2022 invasion of his native land. He was convicted of vandalism and sentenced to six months of parole-like restrictions.

He later was arrested again on the more serious charge of “preparing for treason,” according to the First Department, a rights group that investigates treason cases.

The charges against him stemmed from his phone calls to relatives and friends in which he mulled moving to Ukraine and volunteering as a pilot there to ferry the wounded or deliver humanitarian aid, according to the rights group and media reports.

In January 2024, Pokusin was convicted of the “preparing for treason” charge and sentenced to eight years in prison. The First Department said he died behind bars in June.

Advocates from Memorial, Russia’s oldest and most prominent human rights group, have declared Pokusin, Sevastidi, Safronov and a number of others accused of treason to be designated as political prisoners.

FILE - In this photo released by the Moscow City Court Press Service, Valery Golubkin, a physicist specializing in aerodynamics, stands in a defendant’s cage in court in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, June 26, 2023. Golubkin, 71, was arrested in 2021 and convicted of treason in 2023 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing state secrets abroad, but he and his lawyers insisted that he merely submitted research reports on an international project that didn’t contain any state secrets and were cleared for submission. (Moscow City Court Press Service via AP, File)

FILE - In this photo released by the Moscow City Court Press Service, Valery Golubkin, a physicist specializing in aerodynamics, stands in a defendant’s cage in court in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, June 26, 2023. Golubkin, 71, was arrested in 2021 and convicted of treason in 2023 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing state secrets abroad, but he and his lawyers insisted that he merely submitted research reports on an international project that didn’t contain any state secrets and were cleared for submission. (Moscow City Court Press Service via AP, File)

FILE - Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's state space agency, stands in a defendant’s cage in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, July 16, 2020. Safronov, a former military affairs journalist, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national, which he denied. The case has been widely viewed as retaliation for his reporting. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's state space agency, stands in a defendant’s cage in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, July 16, 2020. Safronov, a former military affairs journalist, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national, which he denied. The case has been widely viewed as retaliation for his reporting. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's state space agency, greets journalists while standing in a defendant’s cage in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, with two Federal Security Service officers sitting nearby. Safronov, a former military affairs journalist, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national, which he denied. The case has been widely viewed as retaliation for his reporting. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's state space agency, greets journalists while standing in a defendant’s cage in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, with two Federal Security Service officers sitting nearby. Safronov, a former military affairs journalist, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national, which he denied. The case has been widely viewed as retaliation for his reporting. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Oksana Sevastidi with her lawyers Evgeny Smirnov, right, and Ivan Pavlov, awaits a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Sevastidi, a bakery worker in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, was convicted of treason and sentenced to seven years in prison after she sent a text message to a friend in neighboring Georgia about seeing military equipment carried on a nearby railway prior to Russia’s brief war in 2008 with its neighbor. President Vladimir Putin pardoned her in 2017. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Oksana Sevastidi with her lawyers Evgeny Smirnov, right, and Ivan Pavlov, awaits a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Sevastidi, a bakery worker in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, was convicted of treason and sentenced to seven years in prison after she sent a text message to a friend in neighboring Georgia about seeing military equipment carried on a nearby railway prior to Russia’s brief war in 2008 with its neighbor. President Vladimir Putin pardoned her in 2017. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Oksana Sevastidi leaves Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday, March 12, 2017. Sevastidi, a bakery worker in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, was convicted of treason and sentenced to seven years in prison after she sent a text message to a friend in neighboring Georgia about seeing military equipment carried on a nearby railway prior to Russia’s brief war in 2008 with its neighbor. President Vladimir Putin pardoned her in 2017. (AP Photo/Denis Tyrin, File)

FILE - Oksana Sevastidi leaves Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday, March 12, 2017. Sevastidi, a bakery worker in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, was convicted of treason and sentenced to seven years in prison after she sent a text message to a friend in neighboring Georgia about seeing military equipment carried on a nearby railway prior to Russia’s brief war in 2008 with its neighbor. President Vladimir Putin pardoned her in 2017. (AP Photo/Denis Tyrin, File)

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