SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall joined other leaders to raise a flag in honor of Juneteenth, now a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans in this country.
Juneteenth was first celebrated by Black Americans on June 19, 1865, when the last slaves were finally set free in Texas.
Although recognized in several states before becoming a federal holiday in 2021, Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law to make Juneteenth National Freedom Day a state holiday this year.
State Representative Sandra Hollins sponsored the bill; she is the first African American woman to serve in the Utah Legislature.
Utah Juneteenth Heritage Festival Director Betty Sawyer says that Juneteenth is an important Utah holiday, as it celebrates freedom and justice.
She also believes it is much more than a symbolic celebration, as she says "it involves real work on diversity, equality, and inclusion."
Sawyer also said that the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minnesota sparked the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
But the effort took years, much like the struggle to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which became a federal holiday in 1984.
Utah was one of the last states to recognize the holiday, at first naming it "Human Rights Day" before changing it in 2000.
Utah became the 44th state in the country to observe "Juneteenth Freedom Day," also as a result of legislation sponsored by Hollins.
"We are all pioneers in this fight, looking to make people whole after injustice," Sawyer said.