Juneteenth in Delaware: Celebrating freedom while fighting for equality and justice

Juneteenth of 1865 is the celebration of freedom and empowerment; but, for Delaware, it is more than simply a celebration — it is about re-educating one another.

An up-close view of the Juneteenth flag.

The Juneteenth flag, commemorating the day that slavery ended in the U.S., flies in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday officially known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, commemorates the liberation of enslaved African Americans who had not been told of their liberation. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

The name of the holiday comes from June 19, the day Major General Gordon Granger issued an order in 1865 declaring freedom for slaves in Texas. Originally observed in Galveston, Juneteenth has evolved into an annual celebration of African-American culture across the country.

However, in Delaware, the end of slavery did not occur until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December of 1865.

Even after slavery was abolished, the Black population continued to face racial discrimination and oppression. Even in the modern day, leaders like Ayanna Khan, the founding president of the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce, recognize that the legacy of enslavement and disenfranchisement can mean that those issues have consequences lasting to the present. Khan launched the DBCC chapter in Delaware in 2020 after noticing the underserved community who needed assistance with their small businesses.

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“African Americans in our country, they’re still going through all these unique challenges with access systemically, Black Americans traditionally just have less access,” said Khan. “We’re talking about less access across the board to several different things. Like, what would they need for their business? Management skills, access to capital, having the network who helps them build their network.”

Khan points to a “major gap in business financing and they need the support” since many of the Black-owned businesses had local business licenses but not state licenses, which allow entrepreneurs to apply for federal aid and taxes. Many such businesses lacked accounting software, meaning funds weren’t always properly reconciled.

“They need the business training. They need the mentorship to help increase their numbers so they can be successful small businesses. They need assistance with reducing the ethnic income gaps,” she said.

Others agree.

“There is a difference of economics, and that’s one thing that we need to do our part in assisting and raising their level of economics, especially for our Indigenous people,” says Iz Bellato, the community engagement specialist for the Delaware Arts Museum.

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The national observance of Juneteenth, which Bellato argues should have been made a federal holiday years ago, is a step, he believes, toward addressing issues such as racism, healthcare, economic development, and political involvement.

“It took years for this to be built out for it to even be federally recognized by the United States,” said Bellato. “This is the real Independence Day of the United States of America because now we can all be free.”

Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day or Black Independence Day, is not only a day to celebrate freedom, but also to educate and empower one another while advocating for change in Delaware.

“It’s not really about, ‘Let’s romanticize something that was negative that happened’ …But let’s empower the people who’ve been [impacted] by it. Let’s help them. Let’s do our part,” he said.

And to empower the community, according to Bellato, The Delaware Arts Museum will host its 4th annual “Beyond Juneteenth” event on Sunday, June 18. This event sparks conversations on actions “beyond” Juneteenth to empower the community.

The event is a “Afroposium” exhibition that will include workshops ranging from discussions on economic growth and healthy eating habits, panel discussions, cultural music, films, and food.

Educating children about Black history is also something that should happen when they are young, said pageant director Sandy Clark.

“Taking on the youth aspect of this is that we work with these young ladies 8 to 18 for six months, and we do workshops about African-American history, not only Black history, but we also do Juneteenth history,” Clark said. “That is a part of [what] we felt that they needed to know because if you don’t know where you came from, you certainly don’t know where you’re going.”

This pageant educates participants and their families alike when it comes to Black history. Trinity Evans, 17, the reigning 2022 queen, said this activity offered her the opportunity to learn about her Black heritage since many schools do not teach it.

“I really knew nothing about Juneteenth and I never really learned about Black history in school,” said Evans. “This pageant really helped me become educated. It really has helped me a lot with, you know, all of the workshops. They have shaped me to become the woman I am today. And it really drew me back to, you know, wanting to make a difference.”

Clark believes that it all begins at home and with the younger generation, which is why she invites families to attend a fun and educational pageant show on June 24 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware.

Here are some of  the Juneteenth events happening in Delaware:

  • Freedom Festival and Parade
    Saturday, June 17
    10 a.m. parade in Rodney Square; 12 p.m. festival in Tubman-Garrett Park, Rosa Park Drive, Wilmington, Del.
  • Mock Freedom: Delaware’s Black Codes
    Saturday, June 17
    2 p.m. at Zwaanendael Park in Lewes, Del.
  • Annual Beyond Juneteenth Festival
    Sunday, June 18
    Delaware Arts Museum, Wilmington, Del.
  • Juneteenth Observance
    Monday, June 19
    5 p.m. at Cornerstone Fellowship Baptist Church, Wilmington, Del.
  • Milford’s inaugural Juneteenth celebration
    Monday, June 19
    11 a.m. in Bicentennial Park, Milford, Del.
  • Delaware Juneteenth presents: 26th Annual Delaware Juneteenth Pageant
    Saturday, June 24
    5 p.m. in The Grand Opera House on Market St, Wilmington, Del.

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