Updated: 3:28 p.m.
The annual celebration of Juneteenth is taking on new meaning this year in Minnesota and across the country as people are energized to fight for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
On Friday and throughout the weekend, Minnesotans are celebrating June 19, 1865, the day more than 250,000 enslaved black people in Texas found out they were finally free — two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Every Juneteenth, Paige Ingram, 30, of Minneapolis, takes stock of what she's done that year for equality and racial justice.
As an organizer with Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, Ingram is out in the community, connecting with people and advocating for policy changes she hopes will help the black community.
Over the past month, she’s been at marches, offering help to protesters and researching police reform.
“This Juneteenth feels profoundly different for a lot of people,” she said.
To mark the day, Ingram, along with other black organizers with Slow Roll and Free Black Dirt, decided to arrange for a bike ride for black people on Saturday that's both celebratory and healing.
“Literally being at the center of a global uprising that centered around defending black lives and pushing for community-based alternatives to policing and the wins that we've gotten locally, it's important for us to take stock and to celebrate and also to really acknowledge the legacy work of what we’ve done,” Ingram said.
Minneapolis is the focus of an uprising after yet another white police officer killed a black man. The Minneapolis Police Department fired Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, and the other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest, prosecutors charged Chauvin with murder, and City Council members are now calling for an end to policing as it exists today.
These recent changes are on the minds of black activists as they think about the importance of Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the United States.
“In a way that freedom is being threatened,” said Lee Jordan, the Midwest regional director for the national Juneteenth celebration. “So Juneteenth means a lot more to a lot more people.”
This year, Jordan is unable to organize a large gathering in Minneapolis due to COVID-19 restrictions, but he’s helping get the word out about smaller outdoor events that others are hosting. He’ll also connect with others virtually to celebrate and have conversations about inequality.
“It should be a strong conversation, seeing that we need to take a look at the system itself,” he said. “Seeing that generation after generation that this system has not been supportive of minorities, or people of color, or poor people. The list just goes on.”
Friday, Gov. Tim Walz issued a proclamation recognizing the day as Juneteenth Freedom Day. He said he would like it marked in future years as an official state holiday, but that would require a change in law.
Minnesota-based companies are also making changes.
Target has announced it will recognize the day as a holiday, where headquarters will be closed, but stores will remain open and hourly staff will be paid time and a half for working Friday.
Best Buy is giving employees the day to volunteer, and next year, the company plans to make it a formal holiday.
For Ingram, the organizer of the bike ride, those steps are a welcome gesture but just a start.
“I also am going to hold corporations to a much higher account,” she said. “But I’m definitely happy for workers across the country who are now able to observe this holiday, being able to have an opportunity to celebrate a holiday that I do think is finding a revival in its relevance for a lot of folks.”
There are also growing calls to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted that her office will be closed and that the day “should be a time to reflect on the significance of what this day symbolizes and work to address the lasting consequences of slavery.” An online petition asking to make Juneteenth a national holiday has garnered more than 300,000 signatures.
For the bike ride Saturday, Ingram said so many people are worn out from recent protests and marches that they needed space for reflection.
“It’s not just chaos, it's not just pain and suffering,” she said. “But in fact this time for many of us feels very sweet. We just want to be in our black bodies, we want to listen to soul music and funk music through speakers, we want to be engaging with our ancestors, we want to really be outside.”
The group plans to start in north Minneapolis at Theodore Wirth Parkway, stop at the Walker Art Center and head to the George Floyd memorial at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.
MPR News reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this story.
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