Odgen • Music and laughter rang out at the Ogden Amphitheater on Saturday as hundreds of people gathered for the 33rd annual June Festival, commemorating the first year of the June holiday as a public holiday.
June 10 marks the day federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas. 157 years ago secure the release of all enslaved people—more than two years after the signing of the emancipation proclamation and two months after the surrender of the Confederacy.
Last year, President Joe Biden officially recognized June 19 as a federal holiday. Rep. Sandra Hollins, Md. Salt Lake City sponsored Utah’s bill to make June 10 a public holiday this year, which was signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox on March 22.
“I was honored to pass the June bill this year,” Hollins said during the festival. “Please enjoy the June holiday – go out, celebrate, but also connect with your youth. Tell us about your family history, American history, our heroes, and what we have done not only to build the United States, but to build this state.”
The festival featured treats, accessory stands and more as children played and listened to music on Saturday afternoon. Cox also thanked the organizers of the annual event, including Betty Sawyer, former president of the Ogden chapter of the NAACP and director of the Project Success Coalition, which hosts the June festival.
“Sandra started telling us about June 10th and how important it is, and so we initially recognized this date as important for our state,” Cox said. “But then we did something that doesn’t happen in Washington DC anymore — it doesn’t happen in many places. But we had a black Democrat and a woman who dated a white Republican guy from Utah. And they got together and passed a law recognizing June 16 as an official public holiday.”
Cox said the people of Utah are trying to make the state a place where everyone feels welcome and part of the community, and while “we’re not quite there yet,” the state is getting closer every day, especially with events like June’s.
Bianca Mittendorf hosted a booth at an NAACP affiliate event in Ogden and is chair of the affiliate’s education committee. She agreed that Juneteenth’s recognition made a big difference, but said there was still more to be done, especially with policies that had disproportionately affected communities of color.
“As a black woman living in Utah, it was absolutely powerful,” Mittendorf said. “Obviously there is still a lot to learn around this because there are people who still don’t know what it is. But it’s so important to me because of the recognition of my heritage and the fact that not all of my people were free when we celebrate the Fourth of July.”
“It’s like a surreal sensation,” Mittendorf continued. “I have a moment where I just walk around the amphitheater and hear my music, like the music that my people listen to, and just see this gathering of people – I felt at home.”