Some residents see the move to declare Juneteenth a holiday as tokenistic as others see a sign of hope.
Parades, picnics and history were all around on Saturday to commemorate Juneteenth in the US, a day that carried even more significance after Congress and President Joe Biden recognised the annual commemoration of the effective end of slavery as a federal holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Texas two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. It was about two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Southern states, on paper at least.
Biden on Thursday signed a bill creating Juneteenth National Independence Day.
Since June 19 fell on a Saturday, the government observed the holiday on Friday.
At least nine states had designated Juneteenth as an official paid state holiday, all but one – Texas – acting after Floyd, a Black man, was killed last year in Minneapolis.
In Galveston, Texas the birthplace of the holiday, celebrations included the dedication of a 5,000-square-foot mural titled Absolute Equality.
Opal Lee, 94, who was at Biden’s side when he signed the bill, returned to Fort Worth, Texas, to lead a 4km (2.5-mile) walk symbolising the two and half years it took for slaves in Texas to find out they had been freed.
Sacramento’s Black community has organised Juneteenth festivals for 20 years, and this year’s featured a parade, talent show, food fair, the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and even a golf tournament.
“This is the first Juneteenth where it’s being recognised nationally and socially, by the masses and not just within the Black community,” organiser Gary Simon said. “We’ve seen an uptick in non-Black folks coming here for the last several years, and I’m seeing the difference in just the conversations taking place today.”