Juneteenth at the U

Starting on June 15, the University of Utah will host its annual Juneteenth celebration to honor Black history, achievements and freedom.

As part of this year’s festivities, the university will observe the inaugural Juneteenth state holiday. In March, the Utah Legislature approved June 19 as a state holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The day became a federal holiday last year.

Because June 19 falls on a Sunday this year, the university will observe the holiday on June 20. Faculty and staff will have the day off, but classes already scheduled on that Monday will be held at professors’ discretion. Starting next year, Juneteenth will become part of the university’s regular holiday schedule.

Juneteenth, officially Juneteenth National Independence Day and also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Emancipation Day and Black Independence Day, commemorates June 19, the momentous day in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, then Texas’ largest city, learned of their freedom.

The news came more than two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free enslaved people in Confederate states and about two months after the Civil War ended. Reactions ranged from shock to joy.

Juneteenth began as a Texas celebration in 1866. Over the years, it has evolved into a celebration of Black freedom throughout the United States. The celebrations gained renewed interest amid the push for social justice after the police killings of George Floyd and other unarmed Black Americans sparked worldwide protests.

“Juneteenth is a time to celebrate and commemorate the triumphs of generations who fought for freedom, believing that justice and equality are their rights as American citizens,” said Mary Ann Villarreal, vice president for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the university. “While true equality is yet to be achieved, June 19, 1865, marked the day where the dream of being free turned into reality and that hope for a better and equal life began.”

This year’s campus celebrations will highlight Black resilience, determination and progress and examine the continuing struggle for racial justice.

On June 15, the School of Medicine’s Office of Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion will present the Juneteenth Day of Freedom Summit in collaboration with the University of Utah Health, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion; Huntsman Cancer Institute; Black Cultural Center and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

The full-day gathering will begin at 9 a.m. in Child Hall and include conversations with experts and community leaders on celebrating Black excellence and addressing racial bias in medicine, healthcare and research. The hybrid event requires registration for virtual and in-person attendance.

At 9 a.m. on June 21, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion will be hosting a Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony at the Park Building. The program will feature a keynote address by Utah State Rep. Sandra Hollins, sponsor of the bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday and the first Black woman to serve in the Utah Legislature.

The ceremony will include a presentation on Juneteenth flag symbols and their significance, an ancestral libation toast and a spoken word remembrance on Learning, Preserving & Telling the Stories of Juneteenth. The celebration will end with Hollins raising the Juneteenth flag.

Like July Fourth, Juneteenth represents a celebration of American freedom, holiday supporters say.

While the holiday is a reminder of delayed freedom for Black Americans, it also offers an opportunity for everyone to learn and reflect on how we can ensure that the United States lives up to its founding principles of liberty and justice for all.

“The state of Utah has validated the importance of Juneteenth and has declared it an observed state holiday,” said Emma E. Houston, assistant vice president for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and chief diversity officer. “America’s forefathers declared that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’ Juneteenth is the birth and reminder of that evidence. As a Black woman in these United States, I intend to rise to the occasion to celebrate because I am my ancestors’ dream.”

To learn more about Juneteenth celebrations on campus and in the surrounding community, visit diversity.utah.edu/juneteenth.