A Juneteenth display at the Kenton County Public Library in Covington.
Events, City holiday to inform, celebrate historic ‘Freedom Day’
COVINGTON, Ky. – The recognition of “Juneteenth” will loom larger in Covington this year, with City offices closed this coming Monday and events on Friday and Saturday celebrating the holiday that many in the African-American community recognize as “Freedom Day.”
Sunday marks the 157th anniversary of Juneteenth, which commemorates June 19, 1865, when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the people of Galveston, Texas, freeing slaves in the last Confederate state.
In February, the Covington Board of Commission voted to recognize Juneteenth as a new official City holiday for its non-union employees.
City Hall will be closed Monday, the day on which the federal holiday is celebrated, and Covington City Manager Ken Smith said that is entirely appropriate.
“Juneteenth is a significant day in our nation’s history,” Smith said. “Many of us were taught that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, or later with defeat of the South. Unfortunately for many, slavery did not come to an end until 2½ years after Lincoln’s order.”
The Commission’s vote was another step by City leaders to acknowledge the diversity of the Covington community, evidence of the City’s inclusivity and welcoming nature, and a move to formalize those core values. In doing so, the City joined the ranks of Lexington, Louisville, and Midway as Kentucky cities formally recognizing the day as an official holiday for local government employees. This week, Dayton Mayor Ben Baker signed an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday in that Campbell County city as well.
Covington leaders hope the community will become increasingly cognizant of the day’s significance in the country’s history.
“Juneteenth recognizes a major step in our continuing progress toward the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution,” said Smith. “Americans should take time to reflect and celebrate the rights and freedom to which we are all entitled.”
Vice Mayor/Commissioner Ron Washington said the holiday solidifies the fact that Covington is increasingly diverse.
“It gives acknowledgement to an important act in our country’s history, and further shows our commitment to racial equality,” Washington said. “Our differences as a people make our city stronger.”
Though President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it wasn’t enforced in a number of places until the Civil War ended two years later. Slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana, and others migrated to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach.
“I can’t imagine what it was like for people to continue in a war when the major cause had been settled 2½ years before,” said Rev. Richard Fowler, of Covington’s Ninth Street Baptist Church.
The last of the Confederate forces didn’t surrender until June 2, 1865. Then on June 19, U.S. Army General Gordon Granger (who is buried in Lexington, Ky.) took 1,800 Union soldiers to Galveston to share the news – via his “General Order No. 3” – that the war was over and that enslaved people were now legally free.
“The jubilation had to be tremendous for the enslaved persons to find out they no longer had to wear the chains of bondage,” Rev. Fowler said.
A year later, the first celebration of “Jubilee Day” was held in Texas. But on a national level, Juneteenth – a combination of June and nineteenth – didn’t become a federal holiday until June 17, 2021, when President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. All 50 states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or day of observance.
Dr. Kristine Yohe, who teaches African American literature at Northern Kentucky University, said she sees the federal, state, and local observances of Juneteenth as “visible and tangible demonstrations” that history is important and as crucial steps in a long journey toward national healing.
“Especially these days, when honest appraisals of history are increasingly being silenced, our country needs both a prompting and a means for remembering the truth,” Dr. Yohe said. “Because Juneteenth honors and celebrates the end of slavery – although that was slow in taking effect in many places, including Texas … it is an important milestone for all Americans, especially Black people, to celebrate historical progress.”
Yohe believes that that acknowledgement will grow in fervor.
“Going forward, I believe that celebrating Juneteenth will continue to be an essential way to help us all remember history, even difficult history, and to celebrate progress,” Yohe said. “Juneteenth is an important part of that ongoing effort towards racial reconciliation.”
Fowler notes that the legitimate end of legalized enslavement didn’t happen until Jan. 6, 1865, when the necessary number of states ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“What is really celebrated is the hope that every bad situation can be changed when the right people are in the right place to overcome heinous acts, even when commended by our government,” Rev. Fowler said.
In Covington, two events will celebrate the day, featuring food, music, entertainment, as well as practical stuff like health screenings and career opportunities.
On Friday (June 17), Welcome House of Kentucky’s Juneteenth Celebration at Randolph Park will bring together Black-owned businesses, all-Black choirs, praise dancers, food trucks, and more.
The event will include The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Quartet (among the few quartet-style groups that perform old-school a capella) … dancers from Bi-Okoto Cultural Center (a professional African dance company in Cincinnati that has toured internationally) … ArtsWave … educational materials and slideshows … health screenings provided by Welcome House’s internal medical team … all-Black sororities and fraternities … staff from the Underground Railroad Museum … and the African American Studies programs from Northern Kentucky University and the University of Cincinnati.
On Saturday (June 18), the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission (NKCAC) joins St. Elizabeth Healthcare in a Juneteenth Celebration at Lincoln Grant Scholar House at 834 Greenup St. in Covington.
The event will feature a full day of activities, including multiple tournaments … a DJ …free health screenings from health care professionals … free food and drinks from Dada Smokes, Kona Ice, and more … career info from St. Elizabeth Human Resources … and local radio personality Ebony J as the emcee.
The event is free and open to the public. Registration for the event is not required but is encouraged at the link above.
“We are thrilled to be at the Lincoln Grant Scholar House for another Emancipation Day celebration,” said Catrena Bowman-Thomas, NKCAC executive director.
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