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Alabamians plan statewide observances of first Juneteenth federal holiday

Library of Congress

Alabama plans to join in on the first ever Juneteenth federal holiday.

Observance honors the day in 1865 when word spread about President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery. Birmingham will celebrate Juneteenth with a festival at Kelly Ingram Park. The City of Mobile will host its own event called Rhythm of Freedom.

Dr. Joshua Rothman teaches history at the University of Alabama. He hopes the holiday leads to discussions on issues like racism.

“The commemoration of emancipation in the United States is important,” Rothman said. “But, I hope that it becomes a day that isn’t just ‘slavery ended and the United States lived happily ever after.’”

The city of Montgomery will host a showcase of African American art, food, and culture called Shout Hallelujah in honor of the Juneteenth holiday. Huntsville will hold its second annual Black Market at the Von Braun center as a venue to celebrate and network.

As for the future of Juneteenth in the United States, Rothman said the day should become a way to discuss problems like inequality.

“If Juneteenth can become the kind of day that is centered on grappling on those kinds of problems, understanding that those kinds of issues still exist, then I think it will be something valuable. I hope it will go beyond that’s just symbolic,” he said.

Republican Congressmen Mo Brooks was among the 14 GOP lawmakers to vote no on making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Brooks told the bill should have celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation, not a single event tied to one state.

Juneteenth occurred when residents of Galveston, Texas were informed of President Lincoln’s action, two and a half years after it was signed. Close to 50 states, including Alabama, celebrate Juneteenth as a state holiday.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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