Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, effectively ending slavery for all Americans. But the news did not reach Texas until June of 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger stormed into Galveston with 2,000 troops to tell the people of Texas that, under General Order No. 3, "in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free."
Since then, June 18 and 19 have been widely celebrated as the time when slavery officially ended.
The celebration took on the name of Juneteenth, and cities across the country have used the time to explore the African-American heritage and influence. Denver used to draw huge numbers to its yearly Juneteenth festival, but the crowds declined in recent years. That's why this year's event, which runs June 16-17 along Welton Street between 23rd and 28th Street, has been revamped as the Juneteenth Music Festival and will focus more on music, history and bridging the gap between the generations.
We recently spoke with Miguel Taylor, one of the event's organizers, on the city's revived Juneteenth celebration.
Westword: This year's festival seems to be attracting way more attention; many people didn't know the Juneteenth festival has continued to take place over the years.
Miguel Taylor: That's something we've worked very hard on for this year's festival: to stress the importance of exploring and celebrating African-American history with different generations. This year, the main focus is music, because that's what brings people together the most. We have the Ohio Players, which is one of the most important and successful African-American funk bands in history, playing the main stage, as well as many food and community non-profit vendors.
There will be over twenty music artists who will entertain the people. The Ohio Players show is free and open to the public, and there will be two days of music entertainment for people to enjoy, all while delving into the historical purpose of the holiday. What are your hopes for the success of the festival? Denver has always been known for having one of the largest celebrations for Juneteenth all over the country. We want to bring back the proper attention to the holiday, as well as provide a space for people to learn about this time in history, because one can say Juneteenth is largely overlooked, yet was one of the most important parts of the history of African-Americans. We want to resurrect that enthusiasm that has been there over the years and bring in new energy. How will the celebration focus on the historical importance of Juneteenth? One thing that was important for all of us on the committee was to be sure the historical significance of what Juneteenth means remains at the forefront. There will actually be people dressed as characters from that time in history, handing out literature that explains why the holiday is essential to African-American culture. Five Points is obviously one of Denver's most historic black neighborhoods, even with all the changes over the past few years. Is this the main reason it's important to have Juneteenth there?
Definitely. Five Points has its own rich history of art, culture, music and other key components of African-American history. Being called the "Harlem of the West," the neighborhood was a major stamping ground for the creative spaces of African-Americans throughout the years. Juneteenth is just another way of continuing to cultivate that rich history for generations to come. We want all different kinds of people to come out and experience the collaboration between those in the community and all over Denver who want to know more about the history and lives of African-Americans.
For more information on the Juneteenth Music Festival, go to www.juneteenthmusicfestival.com.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.