Juneteenth celebrated in Sioux Falls Saturday at annual Juneteenth Festival

Juneteenth, the newly official federal holiday recognizing the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans, was last Sunday (June 19th), and Sioux Falls celebrated the event with the annual Sioux Falls Juneteenth Festival this weekend at Kenny Anderson Park, next to Washington High School.

Food, music and fellowship on hand as people of all ages and ethnicities were welcomed Saturday to celebrate a day that’s long been an important one in African-American history, and is finally being recognized as an important day in American history.

Mayor Paul Tenhaken read a proclamation to officially recognize Juneteenth in Sioux Falls, and prior to doing so, admitted he didn’t know much about the day or its significance, which just became a federal holiday last year, until recently.

Other guest speakers admitted that even as African-Americans themselves, they’re still learning about Juneteenth, which, officially, marks the anniversary of the announcement by Civil War Union Army general Gordon Granger to slaves in Texas that, by virtue of the Confederacy’s surrender, Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation would be enforced across the country, effectively ending slavery.

“This is a day of unity, a day of passion and a day of love,” said Julian Beaudion, one of the event’s organizers. “President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but things didn’t change overnight. He didn’t do it alone.”

The event opened with a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the ‘Black National Anthem’, and included multiple guest speakers and musical performances. Each speaker and performer projected a message of inclusiveness, unity, inspiration and positivity.

“This is a day of celebrating our freedom, which is so important,” said Harriet Yocum, the Sioux Falls Juneteenth Grand Marshal. “It means that we can collaborate with other organizations and create a celebration that the entire community can also appreciate and join in with us. It’s been over 150 years we have adjusted, we have lost, we have mourned, we have suffered, we have persevered. And now we need to remember the people who have come through, and we need to celebrate the progress we have made and build on those relationships and instill those (values) in our children.”

Sheku Bannister, a father of three who came to Sioux Falls to play football for USF and has made it his home, said that bringing more awareness to Juneteenth is important, as organizers hope to make the city’s annual festival a bigger and more well-known event.

“Twenty-eight percent of Americans don’t fully understand what Juneteenth means,” Bannister said. “And that’s why we’re here today. We’re taking that leap forward. There’s opportunity. An opportunity to inform our people, ourselves, our households and our community. That’s what we’re here for today.”

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Sioux Falls holds annual Juneteenth Festival