Cities and towns across Massachusetts marked Juneteenth on Wednesday. That included Brockton, home to one of the largest Black communities in the state.

Scorching temperatures pushed what was supposed to be an outdoor celebration indoors at the city’s Arnone Elementary School, but that didn’t dampen any spirits.

“Education is power. Education unlocks,” said Jacqueline Jones, director of Brockton’s Harambee Learning and Cultural Center, which organized the event.

The federal Juneteenth holiday took decades of pressure from activists. It commemorates June 19, 1865 — the day Union Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, notifying that community – plantation by plantation – that slavery was now prohibited. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. That same year, Massachusetts made Juneteenth a state holiday as well.

Now, despite growing pushback against diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, communities and institutions across the United States are finding ways to mark the holiday and elevate important issues within the Black community.

Wednesday’s celebrations occurred as some states try to limit the discussion of enslavement in public schools and resist recognition of Juneteenth.

Manuel J. Fernandez, Chief Equity Officer of Cambridge Public Schools and president of the Association of Massachusetts School Equity Leaders, grew up in Brockton and graduated from Brockton High School. He was honored during Wednesday’s commemoration in his hometown. Fernandez said that attacks on DEI efforts are also happening in small pockets of the Commonwealth.

“We have some districts that will not even have a DEI program,” he said. “There are other districts that are eliminating them.”

Manuel J. Fernandez is president of the Association of Massachusetts School Equity Leaders. “We have some districts that will not even have a DEI program,” he said. “There are other districts that are eliminating them.”
Kirk Carapezza GBH

On LinkedIn, Harvard Kennedy School professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad noted that this year’s Juneteenth “may represent the first national holiday effectively nullified by half the states by prohibiting any honest teaching, reading or learning about slavery in schools.”

With that in mind, Jones said that celebrating Juneteenth is especially important.

“We know there’s a reason why slaves were prohibited from reading,” she explained. “Reading would lead to education. Education leads to knowledge. Enslavement is with chains, but more importantly is with the mind. Because if you have the mind enslaved, you don’t have to worry about the chains. The person will never aspire, they’ll never believe, they’ll never know.”

Fernandez agreed, saying certain states are “trying to eradicate the history of African American people and to eradicate the legacy of enslavement, Jim Crow and the brutalization of the African people.”

This year’s Juneteenth theme in Brockton was “Educating Our Future While Honoring Our Past. Roughly a hundred people turned out to sing, dance, and celebrate the holiday.

Miles Jackson, a member of Brockton’s Messiah Baptist Church, was one of the dozens of residents who came out to the event.

Brockton resident Miles Jackson attended this year’s Juneteenth celebration at Arnone Elementary School. “It’s just important for the younger people to know,” he said.
Kirk Carapezza GBH

Wearing the jersey of iconic Black baseball player Willie Mays, who died Tuesday, Jackson said that Juneteenth’s broader recognition in recent years has made a big difference in the Black community.

“It’s just important for the younger people to know,” he said. “When I grew up as a kid, I didn’t know anything about Juneteenth. It wasn’t until probably my thirties I heard about Juneteenth.”

This is the fourth year that Juneteenth has been celebrated as a state holiday in Massachusetts, and as a federal holiday across the country.