Washington designated Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the country, a federal holiday, with President Joe Biden urging Americans "to learn from our history".

People perform during celebrations for Juneteenth at St. Nicholas Park, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 2021.
People perform during celebrations for Juneteenth at St. Nicholas Park, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 2021. (Reuters)

The United States is marking Juneteenth for the first time as a federal holiday commemorating the end of the legal enslavement of Black Americans.

Juneteenth, or June 19th, marks the day in 1865 when a Union general informed a group of enslaved people in Texas that they had been made free two years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris signed a bill making Juneteenth the eleventh federally recognised holiday, just over a year after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited nationwide protests for racial justice and for ending police brutality.

Concerts, rallies, art displays and lots of food are among events planned for Juneteenth around the country.

A woman celebrates Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas, two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves elsewhere in the United States, in New York City, on June 19, 2021.
A woman celebrates Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas, two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves elsewhere in the United States, in New York City, on June 19, 2021. (Reuters)

Battling for your rights

Atlanta and its metro area have been celebrating Juneteenth for years. Richard Rose, the president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, said this year's designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday resonates in the city often called the "cradle of the civil rights movement."

"While we celebrate, what we have to remember is that we must fight for our rights – in the ballot box, in the schools. And we have to stand up, city-to-city, across this nation," Rose said.

Parade and festivals scheduled in Atlanta on Saturday include a march starting across from the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and led protests for voting rights, equal access to public services, and social and economic justice.

Just 32 km northeast of Atlanta, Stone Mountain, a village of about 6,500 people, is holding its first-ever Juneteenth celebration this year.

Looming over the village is a nine-story high bas-relief of Confederate figures carved into a sprawling rock face, the largest monument to the pro-slavery legacy of the US South.

'Journey towards equality'

Across the country, many events will take place in-person, unlike last year, as the United States emerges from the coronavirus pandemic and more Americans get vaccinated.

Chicago's "March For Us" has a mile-long route in the city's business district known as the Loop.

"We celebrate Independence Day, so we would be remiss if we don't celebrate the day that people who were worth three-fifths of the person finally became free and started this journey towards equality," said "March for Us" organiser Ashley Munson.

Munson said that while strides have been made, recent incidents of police brutality toward Black people and legislation in several US states that curtails voting rights show that much work still needs to be done.

Among events planned in New York City is "Juneteenth in Queens," a week-long festival of virtual panel discussions set to conclude on Saturday with food trucks of jerk chicken and waffles, BBQ and more, as well as in-person live performances.

The initiative is spearheaded by Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, who sponsored legislation last year that made Juneteenth a state holiday.

One of the events taking place in Colorado is a flyover to honour the legacy of aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman, who in 1921 became the first African-American woman to earn a pilot’s license.

Deneen Smith, a 17-year-old Black high school student and aspiring pilot, is inspired by Coleman’s story.

"That’s what Juneteenth means to me – independence and freedom for African Americans because of what our ancestors struggled through," Smith said.

READ MORE: US Congress passes bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

Source: Reuters