‘Something that we should all be celebrating’: Juneteenth celebrated as official state holiday

Jun 20, 2022, 6:15 PM | Updated: 7:24 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Morning rain showers didn’t deter people from gathering at the state Capitol before making the walk to The Gateway on Monday to celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the day that federal troops in 1865 freed the remainder of the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

“This is so important for our community,” Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said. “This is about a pivotal point in American history when the last of the enslaved people were finally free, and I think this is a part of our country we should continue to celebrate and continue to learn about.”

The Utah Legislature in February passed HB238, a bill that Hollins sponsored, designating Juneteenth as an official state holiday.

“This is just not about Black history, this is about American history and something that we should all be celebrating. The same as Pioneer Day is about Utah’s history and we all celebrate it,” Hollins said.

The celebration Hollins spoke to was in full effect Monday as folks participated in the Beloved Community Juneteenth Celebration Walk, where attendees walked from the state Capitol to The Gateway. Once there, participants enjoyed the Black Owned Business Expo, which featured over 45 local businesses and food trucks as vendors for the event.

Additionally, the Black Art Exhibit was on display, featuring talented visual artists, music, entertainment as well as a kids’ corner, storytelling, roller skating, movie screening and more.

For Lavarro Greer, owner of Heaven’s Best Flavored Butters, Monday’s event marked the first time he’d celebrated Juneteenth since moving to Utah from Chicago and starting his business.

“For the African American businessman as well as the Black African American community as a whole, it means that we get the chance to be recognized as a freedom,” Greer said. “We know that Utah is a state that welcomes all nationalities, so Juneteenth is one of the greatest holidays we could ever have coming to legislation and we’re so excited.”

What can people do to celebrate Juneteenth?

“Come out and patronize us,” Greer said. “Come out, support us, support Black business, we really appreciate it and we love to see all of you.”

Lifelong Utahns like Lacy Nixon said that it feels good for Juneteenth to have statewide recognition and visibility.

People gather at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Monday to celebrate Juneteenth. (Photo: Jeffrey Dahdah, KSL-TV)

“For me, it is absolutely phenomenal because I have been here my whole life and to have the recognition and Utah being involved, just letting everybody know that we are here, we do care,” Nixon, a West Valley City resident and Smith’s store manager, said. “I’m so excited to be here with my daughter.”

Others said that Monday was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate as a community.

“It feels amazing, like, to be out here in the community and celebrating … one of the biggest things that Cleopatra and I really wanted to center on is being able to bring the community together and celebrate Black joy,” said Princess DesRose, co-organizer of Salt Lake Juneteenth.

“This is a joyous occasion when we’re celebrating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, it’s really a celebration for the whole country,” Cleopatra Balfour, another Salt Lake Juneteenth organizer, said. “The invitation is to educate yourself. Seek out the inclusive history that the United States of America has.”

Balfour said that the celebration will last until 9 p.m. and encouraged folks to come out in support.

This is a collaboration article with KSL.com’s Logan Stefanich.

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‘Something that we should all be celebrating’: Juneteenth celebrated as official state holiday