Juneteenth to be marked at Ogden festival, Salt Lake flag-raising ceremony

Betty Sawyer joins other leaders to raise the Juneteenth flag at the Salt Lake City-County Building on June 14, 2022. This year's holiday will be marked by an Ogden festival, a Salt Lake City ceremony and more.

Betty Sawyer joins other leaders to raise the Juneteenth flag at the Salt Lake City-County Building on June 14, 2022. This year's holiday will be marked by an Ogden festival, a Salt Lake City ceremony and more. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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OGDEN — The United States' newest federal holiday, marking the end of slavery, is just 3 years old.

Juneteenth has been recognized at the state level longer than that, though, and Betty Sawyer, executive director of the Project Success Coalition in Ogden, thinks it's gradually seeping into the mainstream consciousness.

"We think more and more people are embracing it," said Sawyer, also head of the Ogden Branch of the NAACP. "We consider that the second Independence Day."

In fact, there are a number of activities in Utah to mark the day — actually on June 19 — most notably a Juneteenth Festival in Ogden, organized by Project Success Coalition. This will be the 35th incarnation of the annual event, to be held prior to the holiday on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Reaching the 35-year mark is a milestone in itself, said Sawyer, but she's also seeing broader support for Juneteenth, notable "at a time when it's important for us to share and embrace other people's history."

Utah lawmakers passed legislation formally recognizing Juneteenth in 2016, and Sawyer said she hopes it's one day as recognized as July 4, Independence Day, and July 24, Pioneer Day in Utah.

Though meant to celebrate the end of slavery, Juneteenth more specifically marks June 19, 1865. That's the day when Union troops reached Galveston, Texas — months after the end of the U.S. Civil War — to let some 250,000 African Americans know that they were free. Texas officials made the day a state holiday in 1980, with other U.S. states following suit in the years that followed. U.S. lawmakers made Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021.

A range of organizations and entities will be hosting events to mark Juneteenth, and here are some of the details:

  • Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall will help lead a ceremony to raise a Juneteenth flag outside the Salt Lake City-County Building at 451 S. State Street on Friday at 1 p.m. City Councilwoman Victoria Petro, Sawyer and Utah Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, will also take part.
  • The Juneteenth Festival in Ogden, free and open to the public, will be held at the Ogden Amphitheater at 343 25th St. It will feature music and other entertainment, food, vendors, activities for kids and more. Hours will be Friday 5-9 p.m., Saturday noon-9 p.m. and Sunday noon-7 p.m. Rhythm and blues performer J. Holiday will be the headline act, performing on Saturday.
  • The Millcreek Community Foundation will hold its Juneteenth Freedom Day Celebration, now in its third year, on Sunday at Millcreek Common, 1354 E. Chambers Ave. in Millcreek. The event will feature performances, a fashion show, activities for kids, art, food and more. Millcreek Common will host a Pride celebration on Saturday from noon-10 p.m.
  • The University of Utah will hold a flag-raising ceremony next Wednesday, the actual day of Juneteenth, at 9:30 a.m. at the Park Building, 201 Presidents Circle on the university campus. A program will follow that includes an explanation of the Juneteenth flag by Jeanetta Williams, head of the Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP, remarks by Utah Black Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sidni Shorter and a performance by mezzo-soprano Cynthia Harris.
  • Utah State University and Weber State University will also host activities next Wednesday, among other entities.
  • Related to the Juneteenth celebrations, Clean Slate Utah, the Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP and the U.'s S.J. Quinney College of Law will hold a Juneteenth Expungement Clinic on Tuesday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. It will be held at the Law and Justice Center at 645 S. 200 East in Salt Lake City.

"The importance of cultural celebrations is to ensure all populations are afforded the opportunities to remember the struggles and triumphs that are shared among each other," said U. Associate Vice President Emma E. Houston. The flag-raising ceremony at the U., she said, is meant "as a symbol of unity and community."

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Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for KSL.com. He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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