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Delaware Juneteenth traditions take on new meaning, adapt to virus this year

Courtesy of Sandy Clark, Delaware Juneteenth Association
A previous year's Juneteenth parade

Annual Juneteenth celebrations in Delaware are being recognized in new ways this year — with the state and several city governments closing to observe it. Celebrations are also adapting to the pandemic. 

Juneteenth, on June 19th, marks the day enslaved people in Texas got the news they were free — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. The Delaware Juneteenth Association has been organizing celebrations, observances and youth activities around the holiday for 26 years. 

But Sandy Clark, who organizes the youth pageants for the Association, says this year feels different.


“Most people did not know about Juneteenth,” she said. “This year, that’s all that’s on their lips is Juneteenth.”

“People have learned what Juneteenth was and now, it’s everywhere,” said Delaware Juneteenth Association President Sylvia Lewis-Harris. “It’s everywhere. And we’re very excited by the fact that it is everywhere.”

The increased awareness is a result of nationwide protests for racial justice. Lewis-Harris is optimistic about these protests and the energy of the young people leading them. 

“They are not planning to stop,” she said. “We are not planning to stop until change comes.”

Lewis-Harris and Clark hope this momentum translates into federal recognition of Juneteenth. 

“We along with the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation are working with lawmakers to see about passing a bill to make Juneteenth a national day of observance,” said Lewis-Harris. 

“To work toward it being a national holiday,” Clark added. 

Annual Juneteenth traditions in Delaware such as the pageant, parade and observance were modified this year because of the pandemic. 

“We had planned on having [the observance] at the Simpson United Methodist Church, and do it the way we’ve always done it, everyone gathering— having a wonderful religious service,” said Clark. “We were just stopped in our tracks because of the law that we couldn't have any gatherings at churches like that.”

The Delaware Juneteenth Association has organized a virtual worship service hosted by Rev. Pearl Scott Johnson and panel discussion on African American trauma moderated by Adrienne Bey at 7 p.m. Friday. A link to register for the online observance is available here or at The event is free, but donations to the Association can be made through Cash App

A vehicle caravan will take the place of the parade in Wilmington Saturday. It will start at Christina Park at 4th and Church streets at noon. 

The News Journal reports a Juneteenth peaceful protest rally will be held at Wilmington's Rodney Square at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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