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America To Observe Juneteenth For The First Time As A Federal Holiday

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- This weekend, America is commemorating its newest federal holiday. Juneteenth marks the moment in 1865 when the last enslaved people in America found out they were indeed free.

On June 19, 1865, troops arrived in Galveston, Texas and informed slaves they were free. This was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

"It's not about shame, it's not about blame, it's about knowledge," says Terri Lee Freeman, the executive director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland, African American History and Culture.

Freeman says this new federal holiday should be a lesson on how to avoid the injustices of the past.

"I think it's important for everyone to recognize and understand and acknowledge the full history of our nation, how we were started from everyone's perspective and that we have the entire truth around what actually happened," says Freeman.

Congress passed the bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. Activist Opal Lee is known as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth". Lee dedicated her energy to see this moment.

"I'm joyful, I'm humble. I want to do a holy dance," says Lee.

"Here in Baltimore where there is a deep history of the country's struggles to attain freedom, people continue to talk about this persistent battle of equality for all."

"It's about time, honestly," says Deuvion Walker.

" I think that we're learning more about it and as time goes on more and more different cultures are being exposed because it's all a part of the great tapestry of our country. But I don't think it does much more for unity. It doesn't do much with police brutality, the racial difference in medical care for black women especially, or even just the racial differences and educational opportunities," says Chuck Marsh of Pennsylvania.

President Biden signed the bill Thursday. The president said "Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments," but instead, "come to terms with the mistakes."

Juneteenth, a little-known holiday to many Americans will now become a prominent part of U.S. history.

"It's about time. I think some representation of America's history and the sour points of that are really important for everyone to learn about and I think the fact that it's now a federal holiday is going to be really big in that educational piece," says Cole Baker of Colorado.

Juneteenth is the nation's 12th federal holiday. Prior to this, the last federal holiday that was established was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and that was in 1983.

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