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Event commemorates end of slavery

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino presents the Juneteenth proclamation to African Americans on Maui Association spokesperson Ayin Adams. Other Juneteenth supporters include (left to right) Bryant Neal, Patricia Roberts, Adams, Mayor Victorino, Gwen Gorg and Kahu Leiohu Ryder. — GARY T. KUBOTA photo

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino joined the Valley Isle’s African American community and dignitaries nationally June 19 to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States in June 1865. Victorino proclaimed “Aloha Juneteenth Freedom Month” in Maui County.

“Aloha is not just a word. It’s a way of life,” Victorino told a gathering in front of the Maui County building.

Juneteenth, a combination of the words “June Nineteenth,” is the freedom day designated by many African Americans and the longest running African American holiday in the United States. The annual holiday is observed in 47 states, but not in three states, including Hawaii.

As the Black Lives Matter movement grows on Maui and nationally, support has been increasing to make Juneteenth an annual national holiday.

A coalition of groups participated in the gathering, including leaders of the annual statewide Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Poetry Awards.

Sandra Shawhan, vice president of the African Americans on Maui Association, the organizer of the gathering, said Juneteenth represents an important turning point for the United States and for human rights.

“Juneteenth deserves, now more than ever, to have its own day in the spotlight,” said Shawhan, a retired principal of South Maui’s Kamalii Elementary School.

Association executive director Ayin Adams said being a part of this movement means working through negative feelings to understand that each one of the people in attendance counted.

“Let us finish,” she said. 

The celebration took place in front of the Maui County building and the Stone Of Hope honoring civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Juneteenth was celebrated first in 1865 in Texas to observe the day federal troops arrived to take control of the Lone Star State and enforce the freeing of enslaved people.

The action in Texas, which freed 250,000 slaves, was two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom for all enslaved people in Confederate States in rebellion against the nation.

The federal enforcement in Texas was two days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomatax Court House in Virginia, marking the end of the rebellion and civil war. 

African Americans and their supporters celebrated a jubilee the following year and its observance has spread to nearly all states.

In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday.

A coalition of Asian American and Pacific Islanders has formed nationally in support of Black Lives Matter.

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