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Juneteenth To Become Weeklong Commemoration In B-N This Year

Juneteenth Flag
Nati Harnik
The Juneteenth flag, commemorating the day that slavery ended in the U.S., flies in Omaha, Neb.

This year’s Juneteenth celebration in Bloomington-Normal will be bigger than last year’s event, although it will remain virtual due to the pandemic.

The Bloomington-Normal Black History Project is sponsoring a series of virtual discussions next week to mark Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Last fall, the City of Bloomington approved creating an official holiday for Juneteenth on or near June 19, but the festivities will start the previous Monday and last all week long this year.

​There will be nightly presentations on Zoom starting June 14. Discussions will chronicle Africans' first arrival in the U.S., emancipation, reconstruction, Jim Crow and voter suppression. The week will end with a panel discussion entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here.”

Willie Halbert
Bloomington-Normal NAACP
Willie Holton Halbert, chairperson of the Juneteenth celebration.

Willie Holton Halbert, chairperson of the Juneteenth celebration, said the goal of the weeklong observance is to educate, motivate and celebrate. The theme for this year's Juneteenth celebration is “Justice Delayed” for Black people in the U.S.

Halbert said she is thrilled for the opportunity for people of all colors and backgrounds throughout the community to be educated.

“We have to learn to open up our minds and our hearts and engage one another and have dialogue and listen to other culture’s perspectives and see what do we all bring to the table and how can we each help one another,” Halbert said.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, but the news didn't reach farms in Texas until June 19, 1865 — two years after the slaves were meant to have been freed.

The weeklong celebration of Juneteenth is meant to capture the entirety of that history, Halbert said.

“It is a time to celebrate their being able to be free and being respected as individuals,” she said, referring to what Juneteenth meant to those who were enslaved.

According to Halbert, Juneteenth and being educated on African American history means more than knowing about slavery. She said children’s education on Black history also should focus on the rich culture of African nations that slaves brought to the U.S. ​

“What does it feel like to be a Black person in the United States? What does it look like? Because until you genuinely take a step back and look at that, where do we go from here?” Halbert asked.

She noted the racial justice movement has gained momentum over the last year, following the pandemic and the deaths of George Floyd and other people of color at the hands of police.

“People are now wanting to be at the table. You saw all the protests we had last summer throughout the country, throughout the world,” Halbert said.

The Bloomington-Normal Black History Project has a schedule of Juneteenth events on its website.

Halbert said organizers will seek feedback from attendees on whether they should seek to make Juneteenth a weeklong event in the future.

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