Celebrating Juneteenth in Ogden

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Joe and Thelma McQueen sitting together.

On June 17 and 18, people all around the United States will celebrate Juneteenth, a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. To celebrate, the city of Ogden will be hosting the 34th Annual Utah Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival.

June 19 marks the anniversary of the day Major General Gordon Granger issued an order that proclaimed the freedom of enslaved people in the state of Texas in 1865, just two months after the end of the American Civil War. President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth an official American federal holiday in 2021.

The first state to officially observe Juneteenth was the holiday’s home state, Texas, back in 1939. It was also the first state to adopt Juneteenth as a paid holiday in 1980.

Though Utah did not begin to officially observe the holiday until 2016, nor did it recognize the day as a paid holiday until 2022, the city of Ogden has hosted a Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival for 34 years.

Every year, the festival is held in Ogden, one of the most diverse cities in the state of Utah, though only 1.7% of Ogden citizens are Black or African American.

The Utah Juneteenth Freedom Festival, hosted by the Project Success Coalition, will take place at the Ogden Amphitheater from noon through 9 p.m. on June 17 and from noon to 8 p.m. on June 18. People of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to join the celebration; it is free for attendees and volunteer sign up is still open to those interested.

The festival is not the only event the Project Success Coalition will be holding to celebrate Juneteenth. Throughout the month of June, the group, as well as other sponsors including Weber State University, are hosting numerous events to celebrate Juneteenth and Ogden’s Black and African American community.

The celebrations of the month hosted by the coalition will have options for people of all ages to enjoy and learn about the holiday and the history behind it.

“Juneteenth is a chance for us to recognize Utah’s vibrant Black communities by celebrating the achievements of Black artists, writers, musicians, scientists, civic leaders and educators,” Gov. Spencer Cox said in 2022. “We applaud those who are exploring African American genealogy.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are almost 40,000 Black or African American people living in the state of Utah and 41.6 million in the United States. Celebrating Juneteenth is just the beginning of recognizing their history and the history of the people who came before them.