By Lea Kopke
GREEN BAY – Area leaders, government officials and community members gathered to commemorate Juneteenth and celebrate its first year as a federal holiday June 19 at the corner of Pine and Quincy streets.
Juneteenth, a holiday that has been celebrated by Black communities since 1865, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
Specifically, it celebrates June 19, 1865, the day enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued two years earlier.
After it passed the House and Senate, President Joe Biden signed a bill June 17 making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
At the Green Bay event, Mayor Eric Genrich and Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach issued a proclamation naming June 19 as Juneteenth in the city and county.
Genrich said just like the Fourth of July honors freedom gained through the Declaration of Independence, Juneteenth celebrates the realization of that promise of “true, universal American freedom.”
“We’re still on that journey, and we’re not to the promised land by any stretch,” Genrich said. “But this is an important milestone. Both the celebration of this holiday as a federal one, and also us coming together to celebrate as a community.”
Sharon Harper, executive director of resources at Divine Temple Church of God & Christ, said she planned a Juneteenth event with the mayor last year, but it was canceled due to COVID-19.
This year’s event included speeches, songs, a parade around the block and stands with food and goods from local businesses.
Harper said she wanted the event to be a place where people of all races, sexualities and political stances could gather as a community.
“We’re all human beings, we all need love, and I wanted to have it where we could represent why we’re the safest city in the country,” she said. “(It’s) because we all come out together, we meet together, we support each other.”
Nicole Moore, who manned a booth selling items with her designs, said she believes it’s important to have events like this in the community.
“Being an African American you don’t really see too much of, you know, us being celebrated,” Moore said. “Too many people don’t understand our history and stuff like that.”
In her speech, Harper thanked her father, Divine Temple Pastor L.C. Green, and called him a local African American icon for his contributions to the community over the past 26 years.
She said in addition to leading several organizations, Green worked with the past three mayors and police chiefs on issues they had with members of the Black community.
Green said he was humbled to see Juneteenth celebrated as a community, even though it was coming so late in history.
“You know we always get things late,” he said. “We got things in Texas late, they signed this was a holiday a day late. But we’ll catch up, pretty soon… My children will catch up. But I’m making a step so they can catch up.”