Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when the Union army brought word of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln declared all slaves free in Confederate territory.
National Geographic’s Rachel Jones discussed the history of Juneteenth and what it means at this moment in America’s history.
While rallies during the day remained peaceful, the evening brought a few ugly conflicts. At Columbus Circle, several hundred marchers arrived to find an army of officers protecting two key landmarks — the statue of Christopher Columbus and the Trump Hotel.
And on the other side of the park a handful of protesters clashed with an impatient driver trying to push their way through a crowd of demonstrators on Lexington Avenue on the Upper East Side.
However, police did exhibit tremendous restraint against a tiny number of agitators and march organizers did their best to minimize conflict to maximize their message. A call for peace and a plea for change.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared Juneteenth an official city and school holiday on Friday, saying he had authority to order the June 19 holiday for workers and more than 1 million public school pupils, subject to labor negotiations.
RELATED: What is Juneteenth?
De Blasio also announced a new commission to understand the effects of structural and institutional racism in New York City. The Racial Justice and Reconciliation Commission will be established to promote social learning, collective introspection, and policy action. In addition, the commission will create a historical record of racial discrimination, with an emphasis on housing, criminal justice, environmental racism and public health. Among the things it will consider is the removal of a Thomas Jefferson statue from City Hall.
“New York City is the safest big city in America with crime at all-time lows, yet communities of color bear the brunt of crime and incarceration,” he said. “Racism has been a pervasive and consequential force throughout the city’s history, and we cannot go back to the status quo. We must use the past to inform and inspire the present, to promote the dignity and well-being of all New Yorkers, and their full inclusion in the life of our city.”
Events are planned across the five boroughs throughout the day, including a rally Friday morning at Washington Square Park followed by a march to One Police Plaza, organized by 100 Black Men, Inc., which was billed as a Justice for George event.
There was also a march from Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall, where a large rally was held in the afternoon.
The city also announced it would be painting five more Black Lives Matter murals in each of the city’s five boroughs. They will be located on Centre Street in Manhattan, Richmond Terrace on Staten Island, Joralemon Street in Brooklyn, 153rd Street in Queens, and Morris Avenue in the Bronx.
Juneteenth is typically a day of joy and pain, but this year, after the killing of George Floyd and the unrest that has followed, it is now a day of national action
Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared Juneteenth a state holiday, acknowledging rampant, systemic discrimination and injustice.
“I want to be a force for change, and I want to help synergize this moment,” Cuomo said. “And if Juneteenth is part of that, and a recognition of what happened, and an understanding of what happened, and an acknowledgement of that, great.”
The governor said he hopes New Yorkers can use it as a day to reflect on changes that need to be made.
WATCH: NY Gov. Cuomo declares Juneteenth a holiday for state workers
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