The biggest and Blackest moments of White House Juneteenth celebration 

Black culture was live and in full effect Monday at the White House as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a Juneteenth celebration concert to commemorate the upcoming federal holiday that honors the ending of U.S. slavery and the granting of freedoms for formerly enslaved Black Americans.

Thousands of invited guests – almost exclusively Black – descended on the White House South Lawn for the nearly two-hour musical concert that saw performances from new and seasoned Black artists who covered genres from soul, blues, gospel, jazz, and hip-hop. The performers line-up included Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Kirk Franklin, Charlie Wilson, Anthony Hamilton, Raheem DeVaughn, upcoming country artist Brittney Spencer, and singer-actress and star of “Raising Kanan” Patina Miller. The show was hosted by comedian Roy Wood Jr.

“White House lawn has never seen anything like this before,” said President Biden while giving remarks at the end of Monday’s celebration. The president, who signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in 2021, said he was “proud to make Juneteenth a federal holiday” and made clear: “It wasn’t just a symbolic gesture.” 

“It was … a testament to the resilience of generations of Black Americans who kept their eyes set on the nation’s North Star,” said Biden, adding, “That North Star was the idea that we’re all created equal, in the image of God and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives.”

While celebrating Juneteenth and Black America’s resilience, there were some standout moments from the White House concert. Here are four major moments: 

Harris dances with Kirk Franklin in Sergio Hudson pantsuit

Gospel singer Kirk Franklin dances with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris as he performs during a concert marking Juneteenth on the South Lawn of the White House on June 10, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

While performing his hit song, “I Smile,” Grammy-winning gospel artist Kirk Franklin garnered one of the most memorable moments of the White House event when he grabbed Vice President Harris from the audience to dance with him onstage. The moment took some convincing on the vice president’s behalf but quickly became a viral moment.

Harris, who, according to the Office of the Vice President, wore a rose pink pantsuit made by Black South Carolina designer Sergio Hudson, gleefully danced with Franklin, who spun Harris and two-stepped with her to the delight of the audience. After a few seconds of the short dance break, Franklin kissed Madam Vice President’s hand before walking her offstage.

Biden and Harris on protecting Black freedoms

(Left to right) Actor Billy Porter; U.S. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff; Vice President Kamala Harris; President Joe Biden; Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, and his wife Keeta Floyd attend a Juneteenth concert on the South Lawn of the White House on June 10, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

During their brief remarks at the second-annual White House Juneteenth concert, President Biden and Vice President Harris called on America to use the commemoration to reflect on the freedoms won. They also made clear those freedoms must be protected amid political and legislative actions by Republican lawmakers and conservative leaders.

In her remarks, Harris called out the “full-on attack on hard-fought, hard-won freedoms,” including voting rights, a woman’s right to abortion care – which disproportionately impacts Black and brown women – and “the freedom to learn and acknowledge our nation’s true and full history.”

“In many ways, the story of Juneteenth and of our nation is a story of our ongoing fight to realize that promise, our ongoing fight to build a nation that is more equal, more fair, and more free,” said Harris. She continued: “A nation where every person has the opportunity not to just get by but get ahead. Since taking office, with the support of so many of the leaders here today, President Biden and I have continued that fight.” 

“Black history is American history,” said President Biden, who vowed that he and Harris will “always uplift and protect it.”

In a statement provided to theGrio, Florida State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Biden-Harris campaign surrogate and member of President Biden’s HBCU board of advisers, said the president and vice president have “consistently demonstrated their unwavering support for the Black American community.” 

“The designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday signifies not just a symbolic gesture, but a tangible commitment to progress. Through their actions, be it in the form of federal appointments or strategic investments, this administration is actively working to uplift Black America,” said Jones, who also served as chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. “The gathering of leaders from across the nation last night was not merely an event for entertainment, but a powerful reminder that although we have made advancements, there is still significant work ahead to achieve the equality and justice we strive for.”

Roy Wood Jr. honors Black pioneers who made Juneteenth possible

U.S. comedian Roy Wood Jr. performs during a Juneteenth concert on the South Lawn of the White House on June 10, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Throughout the program, which was produced by Black entrepreneur John Burns, Wood Jr., the concert’s host, told the history of Juneteenth and how it became a federal holiday. It began as a state holiday in Texas before being recognized in 45 states. Wood acknowledged two figures responsible for nationalizing the holiday: Opal Lee and the late Texas State Rep. Al Edwards.

Lee, 97, is known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” and was recently honored by President Biden with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Lee famously organized a 2.5-mile walk to commemorate the two and half years it took for enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, to learn that they were freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.   

Edwards, who died in 2020 before Juneteenth became a federal holiday, authored the bill that made Texas the first state to designate Juneteenth a holiday. He would go on to found the nonprofit Juneteenth USA, which was dedicated to expanding the Texas holiday to other states and, eventually, getting it recognized on the federal level.

Edwards’ son, Jason Edwards, attended the White House celebration. He told theGrio the event was “absolutely wonderful” and ​​that it was “great to hear Dad’s name recognized for his hard work.” Edwards said he was also surprised to be seated alongside President Biden and Vice President Harris in the front row. He also shared a moment with Harris, who he said extended a “very warm gesture of awareness and appreciation” for his father’s legacy. 

“It was just great to see the president and the vice president really highlight what they’ve done for the country and for Black folks, HBCUs, and things like that,” Edwards told theGrio. “It was just truly a memorable night all the way around.”

Doug E. Fresh dances with Maxine Waters

U.S. rapper Doug E. Fresh performs during a Juneteenth Concert on the South Lawn of the White House on June 10, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Vice President Harris wasn’t the only elected official invited to dance with a performer on Monday night. U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., affectionately known in the Black community as “Auntie Maxine,” got some love from Doug E. Fresh, who ran off the stage to dance with the longtime congresswoman, who he described as the only woman he wanted to cut a rug with. 

The Harlem rapper got the crowd amped up as he performed “Shine A Light on Em” and asked the thousands of attendees to shine a light with their cell phones, illuminating the White House lawn. It was most certainly a memorable sight. Of course, Doug E. Fresh was one of many memorable performers, including LaBelle, who kicked off her shoes during her set (a signature move), and Miller, who received much applause for her jazz rendition of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.”

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