About 200 people joined Governor Charlie Baker and Acting Mayor Kim Janey in Roxbury’s Nubian Square Friday evening for One Night in Boston, a festive event that kicked off a weekend of Juneteenth festivities, one day after the annual commemoration of the end of slavery became a federal holiday.
The event, held in a parking lot at the corner of Warren and Palmer streets, marked the launch of King Boston’s annual Juneteenth National Independence Day celebration.
It featured a musical performance from Boston Children’s Chorus, with a film premiere of “One Night in Boston” and music from radio personality DJ Chubby Chub later in the evening. Danny Rivera led the group in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black national anthem.
Janey spoke at the gathering after raising the Juneteenth flag on City Hill Plaza earlier Friday. She said the designation of June 19 as a federal holiday reminded her of fighting for MLK Day to be declared one when she was in the 8th grade.
Whether celebrating at a museum, or “ at Roxbury Homecoming in Franklin Park Juneteenth has been part of our lives. But this year, we celebrate for the very first time, a state holiday, a city holiday, and now a federal holiday,” Janey said to a round of applause.
President Biden signed a bill Thursday that made Juneteenth the nation’s first new federal holiday since the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Juneteenth has long been celebrated by Black Americans to mark June 19, 1865, the date that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they had been freed, two months after the surrender of the Confederate Army and about two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Janey referenced that history when telling the crowd that Boston’s quest for freedom and equality is incomplete. She pointed to the racial wealth gap, the affordable housing crisis, and economic inequality exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as examples of the hard work ahead.
In closing, Janey invoked the words of King: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” before following with, “So we have a lot of work to do in Boston to make sure that everyone in our city gets to benefit.”
Saturday will mark Massachusetts’ first official celebration of Juneteenth, which is also known as Emancipation Day and Black Independence Day.
Baker said he hopes Juneteenth being both a state and federal holiday will “force” reflection and acknowledgment of “one of the great stains on our nation,” referring to America’s history of slavery.
“This is the first proclamation in state history, proclaiming June 19 Juneteenth Independence Day in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I’m encouraging all of the Commonwealth to take cognizance of this event and to participate fittingly, as you are here in its observance,” Baker said.
He gave the proclamation to Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of King Boston, to display at the King Center for Economic Justice coming to Roxbury.
Paris Jeffries called the holiday a symbol of continued commitment to an inclusive American Dream.
“Juneteenth can belatedly serve as that second Emancipation Proclamation that Dr. King worked for, holding within it the possibility of a post-pandemic start free of the bonds of systemic racism,” he said.
Nakia Hill, 35, of South End said she returned to Roxbury, where she grew up, to commemorate Black liberation. Although she has observed Juneteenth for many years, she said the event was her first time celebrating it with others.
“I think that making it a federal holiday is significant. However, we need more change than that,” Hill said. “I believe that Black people need reparations. I feel like they skipped over a step making it a holiday.”
This year was also the first time Paris Jeffries’s son, Gael, celebrated Juneteenth in a group setting. The 16-year-old said the communal aspect “officialized it as a holiday” for him.
“I think it’s made the day more widespread, made people celebrate it more as a whole,” he said.
Correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed. Material from the Associated Press was also used.