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Utah gears up for Juneteenth weekend

A Juneteenth flag is raised on Washington Square at the City County Building in downtown Salt Lake City. (Photo courtesy Mayor Erin Mendenhall's Twitter page.)

June 19 and the festivities surrounding it hold deep significance for the African American communities across the United States.

It’s a historic day known as Juneteenth.

Even before Congress recently established Juneteenth as a federal holiday, celebrations like the 32nd Annual Utah Juneteenth Festival in Ogden will be big.

Betty Sawyer is the founder of Project Success Coalition and the coordinator of Utah’s Largest Juneteenth celebration, which is held in Ogden.

“Juneteenth — June 19th, aka Jubilee Day — is that day when those last enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas got word that they had been deemed freed over two-and-a-half years earlier,” she said.

Sawyer said thousands of people are expected to turn out for different events happening during Juneteenth weekend in downtown Ogden’s amphitheater.

“The festival this year exploded! We’re having events, probably five or six every day during that time,” Sawyer said.

It’s also a networking event to help support Black businesses in Utah.

“The fact that we’re so spread out, oftentimes we don’t get to see each other, or we don’t hear about a business until years later. This will be an opportunity to showcase what we have to offer,” said Sawyer.

Getting the word out is huge for Black businesses and one of the reasons why Brickyard Barbershop in Millcreek is still around.

“We’ve been blessed to stay open for a while," said owner Romone Vaughn. He said there is a stigma associated with Utah.

“People come here and be like, 'there’s no black people here.' And that’s not the case, but yeah, there are black people here!” said Vaughn.

Sean Young, one of Vaughn’s clients discussing the holiday, expressed how he wants people, regardless of color, to understand Juneteenth.

“There’s still people that don’t know what Juneteenth is," Young said. "So that’s what I want to have happen is that people are educated on what’s going on with them and why we’re celebrating."

Ultimately, that’s the goal for Ogden’s Juneteenth celebration, and for all events planned across Utah — to share the joy of liberation.

More Juneteenth events: