Federal and State Recognition of Juneteenth is a ‘Breath of fresh air’


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)

By Kayleigh Silverstein, Special Projects Managing Editor, News Writer


Over 150 years after enslaved African Americans were told of their freedom in Galveston, Texas, Utah officially recognized Juneteenth National Freedom Day as a state holiday. This came about a year after the holiday became federally recognized.

Following this, the Utah Board of Higher Education approved adding the holiday to university calendars. Because June 19 falls on a Sunday this year, The University of Utah will observe Juneteenth on Monday, June 20, and professors are encouraged to cancel class.

Moving forward, classes will not take place on the holiday.

Meligha Garfield, the director of the U’s Black Cultural Center, said this recognition is an acknowledgment of a troubled past that the country has previously not come to terms with. 

“But in having an acknowledgment of, hey, this is our nation’s history and past, but that we’re moving forward and we’re actually celebrating those that were previously enslaved here in the United States, to be really folks that have built up this country,” he said. 

In the coming years, Garfield hopes Juneteenth will be treated on the same scale as other holidays and that the important history of those who were enslaved is acknowledged and shared leading up to Juneteenth.

“On top of that, I would love, you know, the wrapping of the U on campus,” he said. “Throughout the year, we have different backgrounds of folks, different ideologies, different orientations that have been able to wrap the U and so I would love to wrap the U in the Juneteenth flag going forward.”

On Wednesday, June 15, the BCC will be partnering with groups such as the U School of Medicine and the U’s equity, diversity and inclusion division to host a summit commemorating the core of the holiday: “Black excellence, achievement, education, and freedom.”

To celebrate and honor the holiday, there will be a flag raising ceremony hosted by the BCC and the division of EDI on Tuesday, June 21 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Garfield said that it speaks volumes that the U is recognizing and celebrating the holiday, but he hopes they will take a more educational approach to honor Juneteenth, rather than the high commercialization of other holidays.

“I would love the university to be in the right direction, where it’s not as much commercialized, but that it is educational, and that we can really educate our campus around, you know, that troubled past, that we don’t necessarily address as much or as often,” he said. 

Considering it took many years after the verdict of Brown v. Board of Education to desegregate schools, and with some enslaved individuals not knowing of their freedom well into the 1960s, Garfield does not want Juneteenth to become another Memorial Day Weekend.

In order to fully understand and appreciate the significance of Juneteenth, Garfield hopes instead of throwing money at a cause, people will take the time to learn of the historical and modern significance of Juneteenth and the contributions of African Americans to this country. 

“They were here before the country’s founding, and it will be well into the long history of America — all [their] contributions to its culture, to even the White House being built, to various inventions and music and entertainment, all types of different things,” he said. “We’ve had numerous contributions, and we started from being enslaved … I want people to recognize that past, and be able to talk about it.”

Jasmin Clardy, the advisor of the Black Student Union, said the recent federal and state recognition of Juneteenth feels like a breath of fresh air.

Throughout her different jobs, Clardy has had to take the day off or celebrate on the weekend. 

“It was not so much of a celebration for where I worked, but more of a celebration for me,” she said. “And I think that’s a really huge part of history, that I think this should be celebrated on a regular basis and should be celebrated nationally.”

Clardy echoed Garfield’s concerns about commercialization, saying the ability to celebrate federally is a big stepping stone — one that hopefully will propel Americans to continue to move in the direction of justice.

“Most of my grandparents now are deceased, but to be able to see the day that they will be proud … being looked at and seen in the celebration of the freedom that they fought so hard for is breathtaking,” Clardy said. 

The fact that Juneteenth falls on a weekend but will be celebrated by the U community on a weekday is actually symbolic of the holiday itself, Clardy explained. 

“It is symbolic of knowledge that all of those who were enslaved, did not know that they were free on Juneteenth,” she said. “It took some time. “

Clardy said the holiday is not about competition or combatting any belief — it is a celebration. 

“It’s just an understanding that celebrates and should be celebrated: the day that the enslaved people were free too, it was the end of the Civil War,” she said. “It was finally taking hold of actually being an American. Not a slave. Not a thing, not an item. Not worthless, actually being seen as an American.”


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This article was updated on June 13, 2022, to clarify a statement made by Jasmin Clardy portrayed previously as a quote was instead paraphrasing.