Raising awareness: What is Juneteenth?

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Juneteenth has only been a federal holiday for a few years. But people in the Rochester community, and beyond, have been celebrating for decades.

Local Black leaders say the day is all about raising awareness, and educating the public on the significance of June 19, 1865.

On “Freedom’s Eve,” or the night of Jan. 1, 1863, enslaved people in Confederate states were freed. But it turns out, not everyone would be free until two years later.

June 19, 1865 is when freedom finally made its way to places still under Confederate control. This included the Confederate state of Texas, according to Dr. Candice Lucas, senior vice president for the Urban League of Rochester.

The Roc Juneteenth 5K Run/Walk in Genesee Valley Park was among local events held to celebrate Juneteenth.

“It’s significant to the Black community, because it’s when we were truly freed across the country, all of us,” said Lucas. “And you know, it’s different from Independence Day, of course, because at that time, slavery was still existing.”

She said the day signifies joy, pride and happiness. But even in 2023, it’s still unfamiliar to some.

“Juneteenth was not necessarily taught in the history books, or in school,” said Lucas. “A lot of people did not know about it for a long period of time.”

But several celebrations around town brought dozens of community members out for June 19.

At Genesee Valley Park, the parking lot was packed in the afternoon. Over 100 community members showed up to run and walk for Juneteenth. Organizer Gloria Johnson-Hovey said she helped launch the event seven years ago, and it just keeps growing.

“I get to recognize my roots, openly and proudly, because that wasn’t how I grew up,” she said. “If you look at the parking lot now, it’s overflowing with volunteers, with people that just want to be part of this.”

The event brought out local community organizations and churches like Spiritus Christi — all learning something new from one another.

“Last year we had five vendors; now we’ve got 10 or 11 vendors,” said Jeanne Utter, with Spiritus Christi Anti-Racism Coalition. “There’s a lot of positive energy, and it’s mixed — it’s not just Black people, its not just white people; we’re getting a mixture of people, and that’s really what we are all about. People coming together.”

Organizers said the event raises money for a Civil Rights Heritage Park, in honor of the late Rev. Franklin Florence.

The historic day even has some local ties.

United States Major General Gordon Granger of Wayne County, New York, actually brought the news to people of Texas that all enslaved people were free. His name is signed on the official paperwork from June 19, 1865.