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Freedom took its time reaching the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Mexico in June of 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with an earth-shaking announcement: “In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
The ink had been dry on that crucial proclamation for more than two years — and the slain president who signed it, buried for nearly three months — by the time news reached the 250,000 remaining people enslaved in the Lone Star State. But for those last victims of America’s wicked experiment in chattel slavery, the song of liberation was better sung late than never.
True emancipation would prove complicated for those trying to escape the yoke of the slavemaster, but that belated pronouncement on June 19 carved a new space for joy in African American life. Known as Juneteenth, Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, the occasion has been celebrated among Black communities throughout the United States for more than 150 years since, but was only last year acknowledged as a federal holiday when President Joe Biden signed a bill on June 18, 2021.
The City of Boulder followed suit this year, joining the state and federal governments in observing Juneteenth as an official holiday.
“It’s been said that if you don’t know your past, and if you don’t really understand the errors of your past, you’re bound to repeat them,” Madelyn Strong Woodley, executive committee member at large for NAACP Boulder County and founder and president of Executive Committee for African American Cultural Events (ECAACE), told Boulder Reporting Lab. “It’s important that we know our history. And I think if we’re going to ever improve as a society, if we’re ever going to unify, we absolutely must learn about and appreciate the cultures we all represent.”
In the lead-up to the City of Boulder’s June 20 observation, NAACP Boulder County and ECAACE are partnering with local organizations to present a slate of community happenings across the county in honor of the day, funded in part through grants from the city’s Human Relations Commission.
This year’s Juneteenth festivities in Boulder County will include a special focus on young people, with arts workshops and more designed to inspire a new generation of leaders. “It is important that we encourage our youth. Times are very different in terms of the challenges they are faced with,” Strong Woodley said. “We want to do all we can to encourage them. After all, they are the voices of tomorrow. We want to equip them as well as we can.”
For Rep. Joe Neguse, Colorado’s first Black member of Congress, the event is an opportunity to connect with more than just young people — it’s also a chance to reach a broader swath of the public on a mission to affect social change.
“I’m incredibly proud that Boulder County is holding an inaugural Juneteenth event,” Rep. Joe Neguse said in a recent acknowledgment on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. “By exposing more people to the importance of this day and educating our community, we have the power to make a difference in Boulder County.”
Here’s everything you need to know about upcoming local celebrations.
Thursday and Friday, June 16–17 | Flag-raising Ceremonies
Festivities will officially launch with two days of flag-raising ceremonies at municipalities across Boulder County. In addition to the events below, the Juneteenth Flag will also fly at the Boulder County Courthouse (1325 Pearl St.) from Friday, June 17, through Monday, June 20.
“Formally recognizing the history of Juneteenth and the policies, structures, and history of government- induced exclusion is a way for all of us to acknowledge errors that have been committed and take action to create systemic change that will better the lives of all Black, African and African American residents in Boulder County,” Board of County Commissioners Chair Marta Loachamin said in a statement. “We are appreciative of the NAACP Boulder County Chapter and all the volunteers and partner organizations for inviting Boulder County Government to join in the local work to recognize Juneteenth.”
Juneteenth flag-raising ceremonies:
Thursday, June 16
City of Louisville, 10 a.m.
749 Main St.
Town of Erie, 4 p.m.
645 Holbrook St.
Friday, June 17
Town of Lyons, 9 a.m.
432 5th Ave.
City of Longmont, 10 a.m.
350 Kimbark St.
City of Boulder, 4 p.m.
Saturday, June 18 | Youth Art Development Workshops and Showcase
Young people ages 8–18 are invited to participate in a full day of workshop sessions designed to spark engagement with art forms rooted in the African diaspora. Participants will learn the ins and outs of traditional West African drum rhythms, along with high-energy dance and vocal performance, culminating in a public showcase at 4:30 p.m.
The day will also feature a journalism workshop including the screening of a documentary featuring interviews with Ed Dwight, a pilot and Denver-based sculptor who was the first Black astronaut trainee, and Hughes “Uncle Red” Van Ellis, a survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Festivities will conclude with a 6 p.m. reception. Lunch will be provided to workshop participants. Attendance is free, but workshop registration is required.
400 Quail Rd.
9 a.m.–7:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 19 | Juneteenth Outdoor Community Celebration with Rep. Joe Neguse
Join Colorado’s first Black congressional representative for an outdoor community bash at Roosevelt Park in Longmont. Boulder’s Girls Scout Troop 7019 will be on hand with copies of their Black Women Who Made History coloring book, featuring the stories of iconic leaders from Shirley Chisholm to Maya Angelou.
700 Longs Peak Ave.
Monday, June 20 | Juneteenth Celebration of Black Excellence: BVSD/SVVSD 2022 Graduates
Boulder High Principal Dr. James Hill will keynote a celebration of this year’s Black high school graduates from Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley school districts. Students will receive Kente cloths, annual NAACP memberships and cash gifts in honor of their accomplishments. The mid-day event will also include performances by Selasee Atiase and the Juneteenth Heritage Youth and Young Adult Chorus.
Boulder High School
1604 Arapahoe Ave.
11 a.m.–2 p.m.
Editor’s note: John Herrick contributed reporting to this story.