With the Juneteenth flag gracing the stage, the Alejandro Graciano and Friends band played in Congress Square Park on Sunday afternoon, despite rain that kept crowds away.

As the musicians performed, about a dozen people sheltered under tents enjoying the music. Little Josephine, 5,  danced to the tunes near her mother, Caroline Bergin of Scarborough, and 8-month-old sister Roslyn.

“We’re in the neighborhood and we’re happy to see that people are still out in the rain,” Bergin said. “We’re here to support however we can.”

Alejandro Graciano and Friends Band performs the Portland Juneteenth Celebration held Sunday in Congress Square Park. Bonnie Washuk/Staff Writer

Bergin, who is white, said she came to celebrate Juneteenth, and that “definitely not” enough people understand the new Juneteenth holiday, which celebrates the historic ending of enslavement in the United States. “It’s something we need to progressively be talking more about,  celebrating more, and teaching our young ones about it,” Bergin said.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and read General Order No. 3 to some of the last people still living in bondage in the United States. “All slaves are free,” the order declared. News came nearly two months after Brevet Major General Joshua Chamberlain of Maine oversaw the surrender of the Confederate Infantry at Appomattox, and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth became a national and state holiday in 2021. Government offices, banks and some businesses will be closed Monday to mark the holiday.


The organizer of the Portland Juneteenth Celebration in Congress Square Park was Athena Lynch, a Black graduate and staff member of the Maine College of Art.  This is the third year of the downtown celebration. Some celebrations were called off because of the rain on Sunday.

Lynch said she decided against canceling the outdoor event “to channel the energy of my ancestors and be determined, steadfast and not be deterred by the rain.” Her ancestors included those on her mother’s side who were enslaved in Georgia.

It’s impossible to research the history of the enslaved, “because there were no records,” she said. “Names were changed. Families were separated. You may have had your name your parents gave you, but if you were then sold off your name was changed, and you took on the last name of the person who bought you.”

It’s important to recognize that slavery existed and when enslavement ended, Lynch said. “Juneteenth is about liberation. It’s about the last group of enslaved people in Galveston finding out that they were free.”

Athena Lynch of Portland, the organizer of the Portland Juneteenth Celebration held Sunday in Congress Square Park, said she decided not to cancel and “to channel the energy of my ancestors and be determined, steadfast and not be deterred by the rain.” Juneteenth, she said, “is about liberation.” Bonnie Washuk/Staff Writer

Lynch is pleased that Juneteenth is a holiday, “but Juneteenth is not enough,” she said. “There’s still work we have to do. Social injustices exist. There’s still racial inequalities. There’s still social economic inequalities. It’s great that we have a holiday, but we still got to keep our nose to the grindstone and get work done.”

Her message to a non-Black person enjoying a paid holiday day off on Monday is to consider how to support Black-owned businesses and Black people in their communities. Wealth disparity is a huge problem, she said. “There’s a small group of people holding a lot of wealth, and a large group of people who don’t have access to wealth.” Even a small donation to help a low-income Black worker or a Black organization would help, Lynch said.


Stacy Perez of Maine Inside Out, an arts organization in Lewiston, said Juneteenth is a special day. “Growing up, people didn’t understand I am multi-racial.” To her Juneteenth represents “freedom to be myself, to celebrate my friends and family who take pride in being Black.”

Even in this century, Black people are too often considered “less than,” Perez said. Too many people “see us and assume we’re dangerous or are criminals without giving us a chance,” Perez said, adding that that’s something society needs to work on.

On Sunday, Gov. Janet Mills issued a statement marking Juneteenth. “The end of slavery was made possible by the courage and sacrifice of nearly 200,000 former enslaved and free African Americans who fought for freedom and liberty alongside their fellow Union soldiers, including more than 70,000 soldiers from Maine,” she said.

More work is needed, Mills said, urging citizens to renew a commitment to create a state and nation “where equality, justice and freedom are not simply ideals, but a reality for all people.”

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