Juneteenth now a national holiday

Kalamazoo groups plan events to celebrate the first official holiday.

This Saturday, June 19, people in the U.S. will celebrate their first nationally-recognized Juneteenth holiday. The date marks the anniversary of when Union soldiers informed enslaved African Americans in Texas that they had been freed by Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

President Joe Biden signed a bill Thursday marking June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, and groups all over the country intend to start celebrating it immediately.

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Kalamazoo County has already marked the occasion for years with events and celebrations, and this year is no different.

The commemoration kicks off Friday with a pair of virtual events:

At 1pm, Dr. Ben C. Wilson will give a talk about the history and relevance of Juneteenth.

At 5pm, there will be a spoken word performance covering the use of the arts as a means of healing and celebration.

At 6pm, several groups plan a Statewide Juneteenth Kickoff to be held at the Allen Chapel AME Church on North Street. The event will include music and performances as well as a screening of the documentary “Amend: The Fight for America.”

On Saturday, there will be a solidarity march at Celery Flats in Portage with opening remarks at 9am.

Kalamazoo’s Arcadia Creek Festival Place will host a celebration of Black fathers sponsored by the Merze Tate Explorers. That will run from noon to 6pm.

At 7pm, the Kalamazoo Black Arts and Cultural Center will hold a virtual paint party.

Finally, the popular jazz musician Branford Marsalis will perform along with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. That begins at 8pm at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners.