People line up for food June 19, 2020, during the Norman Juneteenth celebration at The Mercury.

The City of Norman will collaborate with multiple Black student organizations at the University of Oklahoma to host a Juneteenth Festival 2021 at Reaves Park this weekend.

The event, held in partnership with OU’s Black Student Association, Black Graduate Student Association and the OU NAACP, will take place from 6-10 p.m. Saturday at Reaves Park. There will be a DJ, guest speakers, food trucks and COVID-19 vaccinations provided by Norman Regional Health System.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when U.S. Army Gen. Gordon Granger and other troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of the war and the freeing of those in slavery. Granger’s announcement came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared enslaved people free on Jan. 1, 1863.

This is the first time in Norman’s history that the city will directly sponsor the celebration, and is the second year the celebration will be recognized as an official city holiday.

“The City of Norman is excited to be a partner in this exciting Juneteenth Festival celebration,” said Cinthya Allen, the City of Norman’s chief diversity and equity officer. “We are a vibrant community with a deep commitment to education. Events like this not only help us come together to celebrate, but also help us learn more about cultures and history within our community.”

“This is the first time that the city has been involved with the Juneteenth Celebration, so I think it’s very important for the city to recognize these kinds of important holidays as centered around our history and diversity, especially if we truly want to be an inclusive community,” Norman Mayor Breea Clark said. “I think it also just adds legitimacy that we recognize it and we want our residents to do. So, it’s an excellent addition to our lineup as a city of festivals.”

OUBGSA president Tyra Jones said she is excited about this event and the opportunity to honor the history of Black Americans.

“Juneteenth recognizes the official day of freedom for enslaved African Americans in Texas in 1865,” Jones said. “For me, Juneteenth is a moment of respite and celebration as we continue to make social and political changes that benefit all oppressed and marginalized people.”

Having the city involved in this year’s celebration is also meaningful, Jones said.

“It’s been great to have the support of the city to bring awareness to this event in Norman and to ensure some accountability toward inclusion,” she said. “Saturday’s event will be a family-friendly, community-oriented celebration to show support for different aspects of the Black community.”

State holiday

Juneteenth has been an official state holiday in Oklahoma since 1994, when the then-Democratic majority state legislature passed a bill establishing “the third Saturday in June of each year” an official holiday known as “Juneteenth National Freedom Day.”

Since then, Oklahoma has made major political changes, some of which residents say are harmful to people of color.

“I think it’s important to obviously recognize your history and learn from it, and the State Legislature has made it difficult to teach and learn about these very uncomfortable and painful subjects,” Clark said. “But that makes it even more important to have events like this, because we need to not only support it and legitimize it, but encourage our residents to attend and learn, and it’ll be a great opportunity, I think, for fellowship as well.”

Possible federal holiday recognition

While Juneteenth is celebrated across the nation, the day is not yet a federal holiday despite several legislative initatives.

On Tuesday the U.S. Senate unanimously voted via voice vote to make June 19 a federal holiday and for it to be known as “Juneteenth National Independence Day.” The legislation now has to pass the House and be signed by President Joe Biden before it is official.

Last session, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., proposed a piece of legislation to make it one.

“Juneteenth is a day in our history that redefined the meaning of freedom and equality in America,” Lankford said in a release last year. “Throughout our history, we have strived to become a more perfect union, and Juneteenth was a huge step in attaining that goal. We should celebrate these strides on the federal level while remaining cognizant of the impact the existing 10 federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses.

“We can reduce these impacts by replacing Columbus Day as a federal holiday with Juneteenth, America’s second independence day. I’m hopeful the Senate will support this amendment to celebrate this significant day in our nation’s history.”

The bill was co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, WI.

The legislation was later abandoned after Lankford received a wave of backlash about replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth. Lankford defended his decision, saying it wasn’t about trying to “rewrite history or join the mob,” but was about fiscal responsibility.

“Quite frankly, I’m not sure they’re mad at me, other than they’re just mad at everybody right now and frustrated because they’re watching our history get attacked as a nation,” he said in a Facebook Live. “I’m not trying to attack our history. I’m trying to deal with our finances for the future, as well as to be able to honor our continued history.”

Reese Gorman covers COVID-19, local politics and elections for The Transcript; reach him at rgorman@normantranscript.com or @reeseg_3.

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Politics Reporter

Reese Gorman covers politics and the COVID-19 pandemic for The Norman Transcript. He started as an intern in May of 2020 and transitioned into his current position as a staff writer in August of 2020.