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Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday, to be celebrated throughout western Massachusetts

Singers in the Springfield Symphony Orchestra performing during their inaugural Juneteenth Freedom Day concert in 2023.
Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Singers in the Springfield Symphony Orchestra performing during their inaugural Juneteenth Freedom Day concert in 2023.

Many in western Massachusetts will be celebrating Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday, on June 19.

That includes Andrew Keaton, who’s helping organize the Springfield Juneteenth Jubilee celebration.

“We start the flag-raising in Mason Square [Friday], and then we have a block party at Level Five,” Keaton said. “Then, we go to Blunt Park [Saturday for] full activities all day long.”

Juneteenth was given federal status by President Joe Biden in 2021. It commemorates the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, in 1865. Keaton said the holiday brings with it an important reminder about the country’s history.

“Even though emancipation really took place in Texas, it affected us all over this country, the U.S., because we dealt with slavery,” Keaton said. “Juneteenth is a celebration. It's a national holiday. Some states are not recognizing it, but most states are trying to recognize it now.”

Keaton said as the country recognizes these holidays, it would be great to expand conversations about reparations and other policies to address systemic racism.

Keith Makarowski, a manager at Theodore’s bar restaurant in downtown Springfield, said he hasn’t seen a big push for businesses to take part in the celebrations.

“I'm sure as the holiday evolves and gets more traditionalized ... it might be more something that's celebrated downtown. I just haven't seen much of it to this point,” Makarowski said.

Springfield resident Gill Gregory said holidays like Juneteenth should be recognized by the community. Gregory, who is Black, said that’s because it highlights challenges the Black community still faces today.

“I would just love to see basic human rights, not only with community and policing, but with banking, with credit scores, redlining,” Gregory said. “I mean, there's just so many different things, how we as a people are marginalized, are cut out of creating generational wealth and those sorts of things.”

In addition to Springfield's Jubilee starting Friday, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday will present its second annual Juneteenth Freedom Day Concert, free to the community, in Symphony Hall.

In Amherst's West Cemetery, local nonprofit Ancestral Bridges presents its fourth annual Juneteenth Heritage Event on Saturday. The Berkshires chapter of the NAACP has a full day of activities planned in Pittsfield on Sunday. In Holyoke, McMahon Elementary School holds a flag-raising ceremony on Tuesday morning and the Wistariahurst Museum hosts a Juneteenth event on Wednesday.

Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.

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