Major League Soccer players wore Juneteenth-inspired jerseys on Friday to mark the weekend of June 19, the anniversary of the effective end of slavery in the United States.

New York Red Bulls and Nashville SC players were the first to wear the Juneteenth-inspired numbers at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., with every MLS team planning to wear them this weekend in a collaborative effort between the league and Black Players for Change (BPC).

Yates: MLS and Black Players for Change collaborate on Juneteenth efforts

The league has also planned a limited-edition jersey auction and the playing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (often referred to as the Black national anthem) before matches.

The league said in a statement on Thursday: “Major League Soccer today announced plans to recognize Juneteenth — the effective end of slavery in the United States — with a series of initiatives that celebrate freedom.

“The jersey numbers and the limited-edition jersey packaging illustrate the history and importance of Juneteenth and pay homage to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. The imagery reinforces the message that Black players in MLS are standing tall because they stand on the shoulders of the freedom fighters who came before them.”

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day on which Union forces in Galveston, Texas, delivered the news of the Emancipation Proclamation to the region.

The U.S. Congress passed legislation on Wednesday to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, the first time in nearly 40 years that the U.S. government has established a new national holiday. President Joe Biden signed the bill on Thursday.

“This leaguewide recognition is a wonderful celebration of freedom made possible by our deep collaboration with Black Players for Change,” said Sola Winley, MLS executive vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer.

“It was our collective hope to honour this significant moment in American history by celebrating the freedom fighters of our past as well as acknowledging the freedom fighters of today that continue to shine a light on the need for equality, prosperity and freedom for all. In the span of only one year, we have ideated together to take meaningful actions for change both inside and outside of our sport.”

Toronto FC defender and BPC executive director Justin Morrow said: “We helped build this initiative to bridge the gap between generations celebrating Juneteenth and everyone who is still being introduced to this day.

“We hope that these jerseys will help shed light on the historical significance of Juneteenth, which is necessary context for where we are in society today. Understanding Black history is imperative to building a better society.”

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