GREAT FALLS — On Saturday, the City of Great Falls hosted its first-ever Juneteenth Freedom Day Celebration. The celebration started at 1:00 p.m. in the bandshell area of Gibson Park in downtown Great Falls.
The event featured guest speakers, live performances, food, music, and games, and was free and open to all.
Mayor Bob Kelly said, “Now therefore, I, Bob Kelly, Mayor of the City of Great Falls, do hereby proclaim June 19, ’21 as Juneteenth in the City of Great Falls and encourage all citizens, present and future, to celebrate this day in events recalling the divisions and struggles of African Americans in the past, celebrating their achievements in the present, and embracing the hope, and the promise of the future.”
Guest speaker Antoinette Collins noted, “You have the power within you to treat others the way you would like to be treated. The reason I know that, is because everyone here understands how important it is to be treated with compassion, fairness, respect, and simply put, humane. So as we honor this great day marked in history, let’s be mindful to honor one another.”
The event was organized by the YWCA of Great Falls, the Great Falls Public Library, and NeighborWorks Great Falls.
The website Juneteenth.com provides this overview of the occasion:
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden officially made June 19th a federal holiday. It is the first new federal holiday since 1983, when then-president Ronald Reagan signed Martin Luther King Junior Day into law.