Minneapolis

On a sunny Juneteenth, hopes for change and peace prevail

2021-06-19 17:11:32 –

While celebrating Juneteenth in north Minneapolis Saturday, Thomas Berry couldn’t help but think about George Floyd, Philando Castile and the other Black Minnesotans who have been killed during encounters with police.

Their deaths, he said, are a stark reminder that Black Americans continue to be treated differently than white people more than 150 years after June 19 marked the end of slavery in the United States. Even though Juneteenth has now been recognized as a federal holiday, Berry said more change is needed for Black Americans to enjoy the same opportunities as their white neighbors.

“The same thing that was happening on the plantation is still happening today. … You literally have Black men or Black women being overly punished with no judicial system,” said Berry, 44, program director of the Black Civic Network.

Black Minnesotans celebrating Juneteenth Saturday expressed similarly mixed feelings, grateful that more Americans are becoming aware of injustice amid an ongoing racial reckoning but also concerned that systemic issues are not being adequately addressed.

June 19, 1865 was when the last Black people in America learned of their freedom from slavery. Marching through Galveston, Texas, Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued an order that was read throughout the town that freedom had finally arrived for captives, nearly 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

Juneteenth has grown in recognition and observance in the wake of the police killing of Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. The U.S. Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, followed by the House on Wednesday. President Joe Biden signed it into law Thursday.

The day is already an official holiday in dozens of states and the District of Columbia, although not in Minnesota. The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as Hennepin County, made it a paid holiday this year.

At the North Side celebration outside Sanctuary Covenant Church, Shemeka Bogan, 31, beamed as she watched community members revel. Residents enjoyed free food, local vendors sold their goods and children gleefully played in a bouncing house. After a difficult year filled with pandemic worries, a racial reckoning and surging gun violence, Bogan said this holiday felt “extra special.”

Bogan, executive administrator of a local gun violence prevention initiative called “21 Days of Peace,” was also relieved by the moment of community harmony. Earlier in the week, she said, an older woman working with the initiative was hit by a stray bullet at the same location.

“We have gone through years and years of trauma in so many different ways,” Bogan said.

Berry spoke with community members about the idea of reparations for Black Minnesotans, handing out T-shirts and fliers promoting the concept. He said he is working with a Democratic state senator on a bill proposing reparations for Black Minnesotans who are descendants of slaves.

Such an effort could help close racial gaps in wealth and home and business ownership, Berry said.

“Minnesota still has the widest disparities in homeownership between African Americans and whites,” he said.

Later in the afternoon, more than 100 people rallied at the State Capitol in St. Paul, also calling for reparations.

Camille Lewis, 60, of south Minneapolis, has celebrated Juneteenth for decades. While pressing issues such as gun violence and police reform were also on her mind Saturday, she stressed the importance of taking time to reflect on this important day’s history.

“To me, Juneteenth should be about those in Galveston,” Lewis said. “We need to know who they were.”

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-

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