SALT LAKE CITY — Mayor Jackie Biskupski proclaimed Monday as Juneteenth Day in Salt Lake City during a celebration at the Salt Lake City Main Library.
Juneteenth is the oldest-known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Last year, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill proclaiming the third Saturday in June as Juneteenth Day in Utah "in honor of Union Gen. Gordon Granger proclaiming the freedom of all slaves on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas."
Many people know the Emancipation Proclamation as the executive order signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, that ended slavery in most of America.
It was eventually followed by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which officially abolished slavery in the U.S. altogether and was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865, at the end of the American Civil War.
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” the amendment states.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the country at that time was made aware of Lincoln's original proclamation. In fact, some victims of indentured servitude did not learn of their freedom for more than two years after the historic measure was signed.
It wasn't until June 19, 1865, that slaves in Galveston, Texas, were finally notified by Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, of their outright freedom — 2 ½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Monday's event at the library was organized to explain the lesser-known historical contexts of why it would take more than two years to liberate enslaved African-Americans within the former Confederate stronghold, explained Al Kalashnikov, director of the Salt Lake City Area Anti-Discrimination Task Force.
"Our event highlights the concept of freedom," he said. "Juneteenth embodies what freedom is."
Kalashnikov noted that his own family lineage traces back to slaves who lived in Texas about 100 miles from Galveston, which brings Juneteenth "close to home" for him.
The name “Juneteenth” was coined in the 1970s by Texas slave descendants and African-American legislators in an attempt to better recognize the occasion, along with trying to save dying interest in the day that was then known only as the 19th of June at the time, Kalashnikov explained.
All Americans would be well-served to know the history of slavery, he said, despite how difficult it may be to learn about such a dark period in U.S. history.
"Everybody should be educated about it in order to have an informed opinion about it," Kalashnikov said. "This event is to remind people of the evil that slavery was as a crime against humanity."
He also wants people to recognize the lasting impact slavery has had on society in the decades since its abolition.
"Slavery has long, lingering generational impacts even on this current generation of African-Americans whose forefathers were actually involved in the slave trade," Kalashnikov said.