Two days after Juneteenth became a federal holiday in the U.S., hundreds of people trickled in and out of Duluth's Central Hillside Park on Saturday afternoon for the Twin Ports' annual Juneteenth celebration.
Juneteenth is the anniversary of the day in 1865 that a U.S. Army general announced to Black, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, that slavery was over, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed. Despite this, many white people in Texas continued to enslave Black people who hadn't heard the news.
"It's about coming together as a Black community, loving each other, loving everyone else around them and their differences," said Howard Ross, of Howard's Q'ue, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
At the center of the Juneteenth celebration was a youth talent show, vendors, basketball, a jungle gym swarmed with smiling children and a free meal served by Howard's Q'ue of pulled-pork sandwiches, mac 'n' cheese and baked beans.
Like many people of Duluth's African heritage community who the News Tribune spoke with, Ross said having the age-old tradition of commemorating the end of slavery become a federal holiday was long overdue, and an act that changes little for the people who already celebrate it.
"I don't know why they waited so long," he said.
Ruby Swanson, a 15-year-old Marshall School student, said she looks forward to Juneteenth every year.
"Everyone's been celebrating it for years," Swanson said. "When I realized it became a literal holiday, I was like, 'Oh. I thought it was like that for everyone else.'"
Djibril Bangoura, a Duluth Public Schools employee, said that while Juneteenth should have become a federal holiday long ago, he believes it's a move in the right direction.
"The important thing is to be with community," Bangoura said, "to share the joy."
Annalise Archambault, a student at the College of St. Scholastica, started celebrating Juneteenth in late high school, after she learned about it outside of school, through friends.
"I don't think to the people who celebrate it it's a big deal," she said of the new legislation. "It feels performative."
The new law means many now get the day off work. Most federal employees observed the holiday on Friday after President Joe Biden signed the legislation into law. But before any of that, Jehmu Coleman said the work day never got in the way of the celebration. People always made a point to commemorate the day together.
She worries the attention around the holiday drowns out the calls for the country to fully acknowledge and repair the outcomes of its centuries-old systematic racism.
"I feel like they're skipping over reparations," Coleman said.
In addition to the festivities, attendees also had the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services.
Nine people were vaccinated on-site. Branch Reed III didn't wake up Saturday planning to get vaccinated that day, but when he swung by the celebration between jobs and saw how convenient the process was, he couldn't resist.
"We didn't have to make an appointment or stand in line," said Reed, who was vaccinated along with his girlfriend and 12-year-old son.