HomeTop StoriesMeet one of the founders of Minnesota's first Juneteenth celebration

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

MINNEAPOLIS – Celebrations commemorating the end of slavery have been spreading across the country since Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021.

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

Lee Henry Jordan is proud to tell the story of Juneteenth.

“When you think about the history of America, it’s not just something that happened overnight. It’s been quite a journey, and Juneteenth is part of the telling of that journey,” Jordan said.

In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in states that attempted 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 freed.

“They knew about their freedom, but it wasn’t enforced,” Jordan said. “And that’s where the Juneteenth story comes in, which is that they were there to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.”

June 19 would later become known as Juneteenth.

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“Having the United States Colored Troops 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 tasked with enforcing the law in Texas and freeing those who were enslaved.

“No one is free until we are all free,” he said.

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

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

“First of all: why limit freedom? And why limit the story of freedom?” he said. “So I’m excited to have so many places in the state of Minnesota that help tell the freedom story,” he said.

Terresa Moses, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, leads the school’s Juneteenth celebrations.

“Now that it’s recognized as a federal holiday, Juneteenth is becoming a little more normalized, more supported as a way to celebrate, you know, the foundations of abolition, freedom and liberation,” Moses said.

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

“Just don’t go to the one in your town. Go to as many as you can because you want to build a community,” she said. “When we talk about liberation and when you talk about freedom, it means that we have love and we have relationship and community with each other.”

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

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