Salt Lake Juneteenth Celebrations Span the City


Natalie Colby

People march through the streets of downtown Salt Lake City celebrating Juneteenth on June 19, 2021. (Photo by Natalie Colby | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


156 years after the last enslaved people were freed in the United States, Juneteenth celebrations fill Salt Lake City.

On June 19, 1865, news hit Galveston, Texas that all slaves were now free. At the time, 250,000 people were still enslaved, and this announcement did not immediately free them. 

Up to this point, the Emancipation Proclamation was not enforced in certain states, allowing slavery to persist regardless of Lincoln’s statements against its continuation.

As of 2021, Juneteenth is recognized as a federal holiday. However, according to NPR, the day has not been widely recognized and has been met with opposition. 

This designation comes only months after Republican lawmakers proposed legislation to bar the teachings of critical race theory in schools. 

One Juneteenth event called “Summer of Love” took place at Washington Square Park, with a POC market and a march leaving at 2 p.m. Marchers were encouraged to celebrate and introduce themselves to new people. 

Up State St. and eventually back to Washington Square Park, people danced to Black artists’ music and chanted “Black lives matter,” a year after BLM protesters gathered to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and more in the same streets

Mary Anne Rojas, a poet from the Bronx, stood in the back of a pickup truck and read a poem she wrote called “Tulip on Fire” as people paused to drink water and eat popsicles. 

“These are tulips that before they are even born, they are silenced,” Rojas read. 

Rojas said she wrote the poem after no officers were charged in the killing of Breonna Taylor, when she had a lot of anger and rage inside of her.  

“I needed something to hold space for the community,” Rojas said. “So I wrote the piece as a dedication for the belonging, the community and for justice.”

The group of around 100 marchers returned to the POC market, filled with Black-owned food trucks and tents for businesses run by people of color. 

Across the city at Liberty Park, another Juneteenth celebration was underway. The entirely youth-run event showcased live performances, food trucks and Black-owned businesses. 

Elvis Amin, a University of Utah business student and Abena Bakenra were among organizers with Juneteenth Utah. 

“I think the biggest thing about Juneteenth is celebrating the emancipation of Black people in this country,” Amin said. “As well as recognizing that, although we’re celebrating Juneteenth, there’s still a lot more work to be done.”

Amin said they wanted their event to be a space to celebrate Blackness, unify people, and uplift Black voices and businesses. 

“What we find really special about our event is it’s not a rally or protest, which is what we’re usually seeing in the media,” Bakenra said. “It really is just a community celebration of Black joy and Black culture.”

For them, this year’s Juneteenth is not only a celebration, it is also a call to action for people to not remain complacent in the fight for racial justice. 

“They’ll give us Juneteenth as a national holiday to make us feel like we’ve achieved something,” Amin said. “Realistically, we’re in the same spot that we were a year ago.”

The event featured performances from speeches to dances and concluded with a reminder from organizer Daud Mumin. 

“Today holds a lot of weight for the Black community,” Mumin said. “We’re in a fight to create a world that has never existed, a world free of injustice, a world free of poverty, hunger and disaster. Show out to one another, support one another, learn from one another, love one another.”


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