Juneteenth now an official federal holiday; city and police sponsor Aurora celebration

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AURORA | President Joe Biden signed legislation into law Thursday making Juneteenth an official federal holiday, lumping the commemoration of the end of slavery in with 11 other days each year when stock exchanges, courts and many federal offices are closed.

The House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to send the bill to Biden, while the Senate passed the bill unanimously the day before.

“For many American families, Juneteenth is already a holiday,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Jason Crow tweeted earlier this week. “It’s long overdue that we recognize that as law. Today I voted to make #Juneteenth a federal holiday. It’s a day to reflect, celebrate, & recommit to the long, worthwhile fight against systemic racism in America.”

Other progressive politicians have chided the new holiday as virtual signal signaling in place of addressing entrenched racist systems. 

“Juneteenth may mark the end of slavery, but the legacy of racial violence remains,” Democratic Aurora state Sen. Rhonda Fields wrote on Twitter earlier this week as the designation was moving through the legislative process.

More than a dozen Republican U.S. Representatives voted against the creation of the new holiday, but Colorado Republican delegation members were not among them. 

“Juneteenth is a day for all of us to celebrate American freedom and commemorate the end of slavery. America has a proud history of correcting her mistakes and working for justice. This is something all Americans should embrace and support,” Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert said in a statement.

Biden noted the overwhelming support for the bill from lawmakers in both parties. He had run for president promising to unite the country and work with Republicans, but his first major legislation to provide more COVID relief to American consumers and businesses was passed along party lines and he has struggled to unite lawmakers to support a major public works bill.

“I hope this is the beginning of a change in the way we deal with one another,” Biden said.

In Aurora, local police and other groups will host a free Juneteenth celebration June 19, featuring live entertainment from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Town Center of Aurora mall. 

The celebration will have exhibits from different community organizations and public services and crafts and activities for kids, according to a press release from the city. Mayor Mike Coffman will give a Juneteenth proclamation and Aurora NAACP president Omar Montgomery will present on the history of the holiday.

The event will feature live entertainment, including a guitar performance from Las Vegas singer Toney Rocks, several rap performances and a youth dance performance by King Solo.

“Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom and an opportunity to promote an inclusive community,” Claudine McDonald, head of the police department’s Community Relations division, said in a statement.

Denver has for decades held a large Juneteenth parade and festival, generally focusing on the historic Five Points neighborhood adjacent to Downtown Denver. The calendar for the festival is here.

— THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report

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