juneteenth: Utahns Celebrate Maiden Juneteenth as an Official State Holiday; what is Juneteenth and why is it celebrated

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Utahns celebrated Juneteenth as an official state holiday for the very first time on Sunday, a year after it was designated as a federal holiday in the United States in 2021. Following the signing of a bill by POTUS Joe Biden on June 17, 2021, Juneteenth became the 11th federal holiday in America, the first such designation since 1983.

Juneteenth is celebrated each year on June 19, commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in Texas on June 19, 1865, following the surrender of the Confederacy. The holiday marks the anniversary of the announcement of General Order No. 3 by Gordon Granger, a Union Army general. Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1866 and became popular in the 1970s. Since 1979, after Texas proclaimed Juneteenth by legislation, every state in America has recognized the holiday in some form.

The state of Utah hosted the 33rd annual Utah Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival on Sunday, June 19, 2022. Commenting on the state’s first celebration of Juneteenth as an official holiday, Betty Sawyer, NAACP President of Ogden city, said,

“I think one of the principal tenants of Juneteenth is not only about celebrating freedom but for us to be able to come together, reconcile, think about what we’ve gone through that hampered us experiencing those freedoms.”

The bill to make Juneteenth an official state holiday was sponsored by Sandra Hollins, the first African-American woman to become a member of the Utah state legislature. State officials and community leaders spoke about the significance of Juneteenth at the Ogden Amphitheater. Upon the successful recognition, Sandra said it was an important time to discuss their family histories, American history, and the contribution of the African-Americans in building America and the state of Utah.

Utah Governor, Spencer Cox, noted that things that brought people together were far greater than those that tore them apart. He further added that he intends to make Utah a place where everyone feels welcomed and a part of the community. Cox also admitted that though they are getting closer to achieving this goal, the state is yet to accomplish it.

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