Minneapolis marks Juneteenth after official holiday recognition

Minneapolis, United States – On a sunny summer morning in George Floyd Square, a gardener lights palo santo in a small wooden dish near the now infamous black and white mural of Floyd.

In an adjacent church parking lot an inflatable, Sponge-Bob-themed bouncy house has been erected. Inside, kids are bouncing around and kicking an inflatable beach ball as hot dogs, burgers, and brats simmer on a black barrel grill nearby.

For Juneteenth this year, it’s something special. We’re focusing on the future and the future is the kids,” James Johnson of Worldwide Outreach for Christ church tells Al Jazeera. “For it now to be a national holiday, it’s something special and we want to express that.”

June 19th, or Juneteenth, commemorates the day that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas and told enslaved African Americans that they were free – more than two years after the end of the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that declared all slaves free.

Celebrations began the following year to commemorate the event and the date has been celebrated as something of a second Independence Day in African American communities ever since. In recent decades, the movement to make Juneteenth an official holiday has grown.

In Minneapolis, the city’s human resources department recommended in April to make Juneteenth the city’s 12th paid holiday. On May 14 the Minneapolis City Council made it official, followed by the country as a whole when President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law on June 17.

While jubilant celebrations were taking place across Minneapolis and its “twin city” of St. Paul on Saturday, some events have nothing to do with the recent moves by local and federal governments.

“It changes nothing,” Kevin Reese, founder of Until We Are All Free, a Minneapolis-based human-rights focused organisation led by formerly imprisoned people, tells Al Jazeera.

He was preparing to host a community event in the afternoon at a south Minneapolis café, featuring local performers and artists alongside opportunities for prayer and community conversations.

“It’s another tokenising gesture from America towards descendants of slaves. It really does nothing and there’s nothing America can do short of reparations … that would satisfy me.”

Before this year, Until We Are All Free partnered with other community groups during previous Juneteenths, but this year they are holding their own block party event because of the group’s continuous growth. “This will be our first annual event,” Reese says. “We’re preparing for 500 people.”

Just weeks after Minneapolis designated Juneteenth a holiday, Mayor Jacob Frey began pushing for George Floyd Square, which has been barricaded by the community since Floyd’s murder, to be opened to traffic again.

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