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Meet one of the founders of Minnesota's first Juneteenth celebration

Cities across the country gear up for Juneteenth celebrations
Cities across the country gear up for Juneteenth celebrations 02:23

MINNEAPOLIS — Celebrations commemorating the end of slavery are spreading nationwide since Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021. 

Minnesota made Juneteenth a state holiday in 2023, and cities across Minnesota are hosting festivities.

Lee Henry Jordan takes pride in telling the story of Juneteenth.

"When you think about the history of America, it's not just some overnight thing that just happened. It was a whole journey, and Juneteenth is a part of telling that journey," Jordan said.

In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in states that tried to secede from the United States.

Two years later, on June 19, 1865, more than 250,000 enslaved Blacks in Galveston Bay, Texas, would finally be set free.

"They knew about their freedom, but it was not enforced," Jordan said. "And that's where the Juneteenth story comes in is that they were there to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation."

June 19 would go on to be known as Juneteenth.

"To have the United States Colored Troops there is a story that most people have no idea about," Jordan said.

Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images

Jordan calls Black Union Troops the fathers of Juneteenth. They were the ones to enforce the law in Texas, freeing those who were enslaved.

"None are free until we all are free," he said.  

Jordan was one in a small group of Minnesotans to bring the first Juneteenth celebration to the Twin Cities in 1982. It was held at Bethune Park in north Minneapolis.

From humble beginnings to celebrations across the state, Juneteenth celebrations are now a part of Minnesota culture.

"First of all, why limit freedom? And why limit the story of freedom?" he said. "So to have so many place in the state of Minnesota, you know, helping to tell the freedom story, I'm excited," he said.

University of Minnesota Associate Professor Terresa Moses heads the school's Juneteenth celebrations.

"Now that it is being recognized as a federal holiday, that Juneteenth is becoming something a little more normalized, more supported as a way to celebrate, you know, the foundation of abolition, freedom and liberation," Moses said.

She hopes all Minnesotans find time to take part in this American celebration of freedom.

"Just don't go to the one down in your city. Like go to as many as you can because you want to build community," she said. "When we talk about liberation and when you talk about freedom, it includes like love and us being in relationship and community with each other."

WCCO has compiled a list of dozens of Juneteenth celebrations across the Twin Cities and Minnesota.

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