Juneteenth: Thousands gather at events nationwide to mark historic date

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June 19 (UPI) -- A number of events were held Friday to celebrate Juneteenth, a date marking the end of slavery in the United States that's taken on added significance this year in light of civil unrest that escalated after the police killing of George Floyd nearly a month ago.

Hundreds gathered on Washington's National Mall across from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. That's where a "Freedom Day March" was scheduled to take place to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.

Across town, players on the Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics spoke during a rally outside Capital One Arena. A march from the venue was expected to join up with other rallies at the MLK Memorial.

Police in Washington, D.C., prepared for celebrations and protests to mark the occasion. Officials expected thousands of protesters throughout the weekend.

The march routes took protesters past the White House, national monuments on the National Mall and through historically black neighborhoods in the city.

Black Lives Matter DC called for activists to march at major intersections and highways as part of the "Strike for Black Lives."

"We are calling for disruptive actions aimed at shutting down the city: Strikes, sick-outs, blockades, occupations, and spontaneous marches," the group stated on its website.

Washington police announced traffic restrictions that affect most of the district's downtown area starting Friday.

Hundreds of other Juneteenth celebrations were planned in at least 45 states, according to the Movement for Black Lives.

Among them will be a three-day event in Tulsa, Okla., which will coincide with President Donald Trump's rally there Saturday. Civil rights leader Al Sharpton is expected to speak Friday.

In San Francisco, demonstrators marked Juneteenth while also protesting the police-involved shooting of 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa, who was laid to rest Friday. They gathered on the Carquinez Bridge, slowing traffic.

Thousands gathered in locations throughout New York City in the streets and parks. Marches also flowed down streets and bridges, including the Brooklyn Bridge, stopping in key locations such as City Hall, Harlem and Cadman Plaza Park.

Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, the date when an order issued by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army informed all 250,000 slaves in Texas -- who were some of the last in the nation -- that they had been freed. The news led to mass celebrations among African Americans in the state and has since grown into a nationwide observance.

The announcement came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery.

Thursday, researchers at the National Archives said they have located what's believed to be the original handwritten "Juneteenth" order issued by Granger from his base in Galveston, The Washington Post reported.

"This is something that we haven't tracked down before," said archivist Trevor Plante, who found the document.

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, 'all slaves are free,'" the order states.

"This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor."

"I think the timing is just amazing," said National Archives head David Ferriero.

President Donald Trump issued a statement Friday to mark the occasion.

"Juneteenth reminds us of both the unimaginable injustice of slavery and the incomparable joy that must have attended emancipation," he said. "It is both a remembrance of a blight on our history and a celebration of our nation's unsurpassed ability to triumph over darkness."

Protesters demand justice in police killing of George Floyd

Demonstrators hold a sign in Los Angeles on June 14 for Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was shot by police in her home while she was sleeping. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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