SALT LAKE CITY — In celebration of Juneteenth, there are many events happening around the state of Utah.
One of them involved a flag now flying over the Salt Lake County complex, part of a ceremony commemorating the day the last slaves were told they were freed.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, along with several other state and local leaders, raised the American flag Friday to officially mark Juneteenth.
On a picture-perfect June day in Salt Lake City, Betty Sawyer wanted to make it perfectly clear to all Utahns why Juneteenth is important and should be recognized.
“We’re here to formally commemorate this day in history when, over 150 years ago, that the last of those Africans who were enslaved got awarded freedom, and that was 1865 — about two-and-a-half years following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation," said Sawyer, who helps organize Ogden's Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival and is also president of the NAACP in Ogden.
As an African-American woman living in a predominantly Caucasian state, she is keenly aware of why people know so little about this day in history and why it’s taken some time to commemorate it.
“We’ve been celebrating this in Utah for over 50 years and 31 years as a state event," Sawyer said. "And so word then moved slow and it’s moved even slower because we’ve had challenges ... coming to grips with our history of enslavement in this country, so a day to lift that up has not been something that everyone wants to embrace.”
She says it’s been a long, sometimes rocky road but the journey has been worth it.
“We are persistent, determined and resilient people and that shows by the fact that we are still here, we are still willing to fight the good fight for freedom, justice and equality.”
Juneteenth is now a holiday observance in 47 states – the only holdouts being Hawaii and both North and South Dakota.
Organizers are working on legislation to make it a federal holiday.