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Black St. Louisans Urge People To Use Juneteenth As A Day Of Reflection And Service

Marchers walk down Tucker Avenue during a Juneteenth celebration in St. Louis on June 19, 2020.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI
People walked down Tucker Avenue in downtown St. Louis to commemorate Juneteenth with a protest to save Black lives on June 19, 2020.

St. Louis, St. Louis County and Illinois have designated Juneteenth as an official holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. President Joe Biden signed a law on Thursday making June 19 national holiday.

Many Black St. Louisans are celebrating today and Saturday by attending historical presentations about Juneteenth, musical performances, cookouts and bike-a-thons. They also are using the holiday to reflect on America’s racist past and volunteering in Black communities.

“I think it's very important for us to use this holiday as a stepping stone to learn more or even do more to break the barriers down that have prevented Black Americans from advancing in this country,” said Farrakhan Shegog, federation of block units director for Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said all state offices will be closed today to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday.

On June 19, 1865, Union Army soldiers went to Galveston, Texas, to announcethat enslaved Black people were free. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier.

African Americans who had been enslaved celebrated their freedom with religious ceremonies and emancipation parties. Today, African Americans still incorporate past traditions, but the day of freedom has evolved into parades, family gatherings, festivals and service opportunities in Black communities.

Shegog, who grew up in north St. Louis and University City, celebrates Juneteenth every year. He remembers his parents teaching him the history behind the day, participating in community service projects and eating delicious food and popping fireworks.

He hopes that now that Juneteenth is a nationwide celebration, people will use it to learn more about Black history.

“I’m in full support of more people, especially white Americans, learning and understanding really of the significance behind the Juneteenth holiday and really understanding exactly the culture at the time of why exactly Black men and women were still held captive,” Shegog said.

Shegog said when he thinks of Juneteenth he reflects on his ancestors, his community and Black America’s future.

Jessica Miller started celebrating Juneteenth last year with her family while living in Washington, D.C. They wore custom T-shirts and patronized a number of Black-owned businesses. Now that the ninth grade biology teacher lives in St. Louis, she plans to do so again.

“For me personally, it's all about celebrating my blackness and my liberation, so whatever I want to do, I do,” Miller said. “And so if it's not Juneteenth, I try to carry that same spirit every day.”

Chancellor Jackson is hosting a get-together at his home for friends to discuss ways to rebuild Black communities in St. Louis. The contractor from north St. Louis said Black St. Louisans should invest in African American communities across the region to help revitalize them.

Typically, companies garner great financial gain from consumers on holidays. People should not get caught up in the holiday and forget to spend money in the Black community, said James Tucker, president of Africans Rising Together 2063.

“This is an economic process where we should use this opportunity to build our community, make our community better,” Tucker said.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Juneteenth Events Across The Region:

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.