Durham leaders celebrate Juneteenth, highlight stakes of 2024 election for Black residents

Durham leaders celebrate Juneteenth, highlight stakes of 2024 election for Black residents

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff meeting with community members and elected officials at a Juneteenth event in Durham on June 19, 2024. Photo: Dylan Rhoney/Cardinal & Pine

By Dylan Rhoney

June 20, 2024

Commemorating Juneteenth in Durham, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and DNC Chair Jaime Harrison met with local leaders and members of the community to celebrate freedom and to highlight the importance of November’s election.

Durham leaders and community members joined with Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff on Wednesday to celebrate Juneteenth and honor the community’s rich Black history. 

Emhoff, the husband of the first Black vice president, Kamala Harris, took part in an event hosted by Michael De Los Santos, the owner of Mike D’s BBQ, and his wife, Gloria. 

Mike D’s is Black-owned business that honors De Los Santos’ African-American and Latino heritage. Prior to the speaking portion of the event, De Los Santos and Gloria gave Emhoff a tour of the kitchen, prompting the Second Gentleman to talk about Harris’ love of cooking.  

 “The Vice President loves to cook, and I love to eat,” Emhoff jokingly said.

Joining Emhoff at the event were Durham leaders—including Mayor Leo Williams, State Senator Natalie Murdock, Congresswoman Valarie Foushee, and former Congressman G.K. Butterfield—and Democratic National Committee Chair Jamie Harrison.

The history of Juneteenth

President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1 1863, but it took two and a half years—until after the Civil War ended—for it to be enforced in Texas. When federal soldiers finally announced the end of slavery on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, nearly 250,000 people were freed. This event has become known as Juneteenth, and commemorations have occurred across the country ever since.

This year’s celebration marks the fourth year of Juneteenth being a federal holiday. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill establishing Juneteenth—June 19th—as a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in America. On Wednesday, local leaders celebrated Juneteenth and the progress made thus far, while noting that the fight for freedom continues. 

“We know that Juneteenth is a day to remember the original sin of slavery, to honor the tireless work of abolitionists, to commemorate America’s dedication to the cause of freedom. Understanding that we are not 100% there, understanding that freedom is not free, understanding that those who came before us continued to fight until they couldn’t fight anymore, so now we stand in their stead making sure we continue this fight,” Foushee said in her remarks.

Harrison also spoke of the importance of Juneteenth and what it means to African-Americans and to the nation.

“Juneteenth is about celebrating freedom. And the one thing that we know is, the price of freedom is not free. There was a lot of hard work, a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and even lives that were given up in order to get African-Americans their freedom,” he said. 

Juneteenth and the stakes of the upcoming election

Harrison also used Wednesday’s event to highlight the urgency of the 2024 presidential elections. 

Citing “First they came”, a poem written by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller in post-war Germany about those who stayed silent during the Holocaust, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, where he referenced the “appalling silence of the good people,” Harrison urged North Carolinians to act and fight for their rights and freedoms. 

“These two Martins from two different eras, speaking to each other and also yelling to us that we are at a crossroads where silence endangers the freedom of each and every one of us, that our futures are interconnected, that we cannot be separated by the forces of hatred and bigotry and division,” he said. “In my faith, I learned that faith without works is dead. But in my life, I’ve learned that hope without action is never realized. So if we are really serious about hope in Eastern North Carolina, across North Carolina, and across this great nation, we have to put some action into it. We can’t just hope that things get better.”

Emhoff echoed Harrison’s comments about the importance of the November elections in the ongoing fight for freedom and equal rights. 

“This holiday is about recognition of a fight that is ongoing today. The stakes of this election couldn’t make it more clear that this fight for freedom, which we celebrate, is ongoing,” he said.

The Second Gentleman cited Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election and the ensuing attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 as examples of the threat he poses to democracy.

“He couldn’t accept the fact that he lost that election. He couldn’t accept it, and January 6th happened. An insurrection at our capitol… and then he had the nerve to show up there last week, celebrated, at the very place where he tried to overthrow free and fair elections, surrounded by sycophants just standing there clapping,” Emhoff said. “It made me sick. It should make all Americans sick.”


  • Dylan Rhoney

    Dylan Rhoney is an App State grad from Morganton who is passionate about travel, politics, history, and all things North Carolina. He lives in Raleigh.

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