More than a century and a half after the last slaves learned of their freedom in the United States, Juneteenth events unfolded across Detroit and the region on Wednesday, marking a day of celebration and reflection.

At the Charles H. Wright Museum, a day-long Juneteenth event was held with performances, speeches and history lessons. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer chose the holiday to sign into law a bill recognizing May 2nd as Negro Leagues Day in Michigan, a significant move to uplift and honor the historic accomplishments of Black baseball players who played in the Negro League.

Many attendees said the day was a reminder of the sacrifices that came with freedom and noted that there is still work to be done.

Angel Ajonuma,19, (c), of the Kasima Dance Group, leads the group during an African dance performance at Northwestern H.S. Juneteenth event. June 19, 2024, in Detroit, MI.

“This is the real Independence Day for America, 98 years after the fourth of July,” said Daw’ud Clark of Detroit, who attended The Wright’s Juneteenth celebration. “Within the Detroit Public Schools system, I was miseducated for years because I never knew about this day. Parents need to teach their kids about this day and make sure they’re aware of this day and know that this is the day we got our freedom.”

Juneteenth commemorates the day that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were brought news of their freedom by Union soldiers, about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Detroit’s Northwestern High School organized the city’s only Juneteenth parade. Held for the second year, the theme was “Rooted in Community.”

Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield, the parade’s co-grand marshal, welcomed parade attendees and told them the event is a reminder that “our freedom wasn’t free.”

City Council President Mary Sheffield, (c), waves to the crowd riding the Bully Free float on Grand Blvd. during the Juneteenth Parade at Northwestern High School on June 19, 2024, in Detroit, MI.

“Juneteenth is not a day off because there’s still too much work to be done,” she said. “As we celebrate Juneteenth, a time of freedom, celebration, expression, and liberation, I want us to remember that our freedom… came with sacrifices, it came with sweat, it came with hard work from our ancestors.”

The parade was kicked off by a traditional African dance performance by the Kasimma Group. Attendees joined the parade with Juneteenth posters and led a small procession down Grand Blvd to the Joseph Walker Williams Recreation Center, where Juneteenth Resource and Health Fair was held.

Parade attendees agreed that a significant part of Juneteenth celebrations is remembering the history of slavery in the United States and passing down Juneteenth traditions to future generations.

Miss Juneteenth Nialah Crosby, 21, riding the Juneteenth Celebration trailer on Grand Blvd. during the Juneteenth Parade at Northwestern High School on June 19, 2024, in Detroit, MI. (Clarence Tabb, Jr.)

Diamond White, a Detroit native, attended the parade with her kids for the second year to “celebrate freedom.”

“We weren’t brought up with (the history of Juneteenth) but now it’s a federal holiday, so I just think that it’s really important to teach our kids that history,” she said. “When I was growing up, Juneteenth wasn’t considered important and I didn’t even know about it, but I love that now we have events like this that are bringing awareness to it and honoring our history.”

Tamesha Rouse, the parade’s event planner, attended the parade with her kids to “honor Juneteenth and make sure (her kids) understand what Juneteenth is.”

“My kids’ school unfortunately doesn’t teach Juneteenth, so they didn’t know anything about it. But when other people looking down the street see what’s going on, and they see this Juneteenth parade honoring who we are, it’s really amazing, especially for the young kids who don’t know what this day means,” she said.

The extreme weather foiled one Juneteenth event. The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy was scheduled to hold a “Juneteenth on the Cut” celebration on the Dequindre Cut’s Campbell Terrace on Wednesday, but the event was cancelled due to extreme heat, the conservancy said on X, the former Twitter platform.

Florella Strings and Tene Dismuke and Andrea Het-Heru House lead a morning stretch at The Wright Museum's Juneteenth Jubilee Celebration

The Charles H. Wright Museum’s event included African dance performances, live music, history lessons on Juneteenth and Detroit, and youth horseback riding. Visitors also got to enjoy the museum’s four current exhibitions, including their core exhibition, “And Still we Rise.”

Dee Satcher, who visited the Juneteenth celebration during her stay in Detroit for the summer, said events like the Wright’s are “important to bringing the community together and making sure that history isn’t forgotten.”

“There are so many things happening in the world now where our history is trying to be erased, so it’s just so important for celebrations and remembrances like this, because this is our history as African Americans.” she said. “This holiday is important for generations to come, so they can understand that there were a group of slaves that didn’t even realize they were free when everyone else was.”

“If you don’t know your history, then you have the tendency to repeat it,” said Detroit native Jermaine Jones.

In Royal Oak, community members participated in the 4th annual Juneteenth Celebration in the city’s downtown, which included a Freedom Walk, music and vendors. During the Freedom Walk, participants walked 1865 steps, like the year of Juneteenth, in Royal Oak.

Ferndale resident Bilal Sakbani said he came to the Juneteenth Celebration because he is from Syria, a country that he says has a lot issues “with respect to lack of freedom.” He said that by attending the event, he is making sure that he understands “what people are thinking about freedom.”

“In the Middle East, people lack this freedom,” he said, “and they’re suffering so much because of that.”

Negro Leagues Day

House Bill 4519, sponsored by State Rep. Helena Scott, D-Detroit and signed by Whitmer Wednesday, meanwhile, honors the Negro Leagues and the Detroit Stars, one of the league’s eight founding teams. The Detroit Stars established themselves as one of the league’s best when they finished just behind the Chicago American Giants in the inaugural 1920 season, solidifying their reputation as major baseball contenders.

Whitmer said she was “honored to sign (the) bipartisan bill to honor the history of Black baseball players and teams in Michigan.”

“This league was not only a crucial part of baseball history but also a testament to strength resilience and talents of Black athletes who overcame significant barriers to play the game that they loved,” she said in a statement.

Hamtramck stadium is also a major marker of Detroit’s Negro League history, as it served as the home of the Detroit Stars and the Detroit Wolves of the Major Negro Leagues in the 1930s. The Hamtramck stadium is one of the only five remaining Negro League home ballparks still in existence.

afayad@detroitnews.com