The Ann Arbor Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP) held its first Juneteenth Celebration in 1994. The idea was to have a
community event celebrated in Ann Arbor that was a joyful time in the life of African
Americans. Wheeler Park, formerly Summit Park, was chosen as the site for this
celebration because it had been the center of an African American neighborhood in Ann
Arbor. Wheeler Park was named in honor of Albert H. Wheeler, Ann Arbor's first and
only African American mayor.
Over the years, the event has evolved. Initially, Branch members and friends gathered
in the park to chat about the state of Black America and peruse literature by and about
African Americans. Now the celebration is a joyful gathering of community members
enjoying local talent, food, vendors and a replica of the cake walk held at Juneteenth
Celebrations of yore. The current celebration is sprinkled with historical facts about
Juneteenth and African Americans.
There is a common misconception among Americans that Abraham Lincoln freed the
slaves with a stroke of his pen. Yet the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into
effect on Jan. 1, 1863, did no such thing - or, at least, it didn't do a very good job of it.
Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas,
announced the end of the Civil War, and read aloud a general order freeing the quarter-
million slaves residing in the state. It's likely that none of them had any idea that they
had actually been freed more than two years before. It was truly a day of mass
emancipation and has become known as Juneteenth. Since then, Juneteenth has been
a day of celebration for many African Americans, a de facto second Independence Day
commemorating the end of slavery and a first step toward inclusion in the greater
Juneteenth celebrations began in the state of Texas in the years following General
Gordon Granger's 1865 proclamation in Galveston and continued for decades. The
tradition spread to bordering Southern states, such as Arkansas and Louisiana, as
migrating African Americans fanned out from Texas. It reached as far as California
where San Francisco has held one of the nation's largest Juneteenth celebrations for
the last five-plus decades and Minnesota, where Minneapolis boasts a large festival.
As a Senator, President Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a
national holiday. This effort was, unfortunately, unsuccessful. On May 17, 2021, Ann
Arbor City Council voted unanimously to recognize Juneteenth as a city holiday. The
following month legislation establishing Juneteenth as a National holiday was finally
passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden the following day, June
Juneteenth is enjoying a phenomenal growth rate within communities and organizations
throughout the country. Institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum
and others have begun sponsoring Juneteenth-centered activities with the mission to
promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African American history and
Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while
encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a
more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are
not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of
pride is growing.
The future of Juneteenth looks bright as the number of cities and states creating
Juneteenth committees continues to increase. Getting involved and supporting
Juneteenth celebrations creates new bonds of friendship and understanding among us.
This, indeed, brightens our future - and that is the Spirit of Juneteenth.
Join the Celebration!