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'It Feels Bigger': 155th Anniversary Of Juneteenth Comes As Country Faces Change, Division

CHICAGO (CBS)-- Friday marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the day enslaved people in Texas learned about the Emancipation Proclamation, calling an end to slavery in the rebel states.

It comes at a pivotal time in our country as we stand at the crossroad of division and change.

CBS 2's Audrina Bigos spoke with Perri Irmer, president and CEO of Chicago's DuSable Museum of African American History, about the significance of Juneteenth both then now.

First, some history.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, but the news didn't reach the enslaved people in the last state of Texas until two years later on June 19th 1865.

The proclamation declared that "All persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are and hence-forward  shall be free."

"After the news reached Galveston, there was jubilation among the former slaves, a time of reassuring each other, a time for prayer, a time for gathering," Irmer said. "The celebration of Juneteenth is one of spiritual recognition, of family, celebrating but also not forgetting the origin where this date originated and why."

The language involved "absolute equity of rights and rights of property," Irmer says, that  may have been more about words than actions.

"We have to ask ourselves, was that ever true, has that been true and has that been adopted not only in enforcement of the proclamation, But in our day-to-day behavior as Americans," she said. "Has that order been internalized and practiced in this country?"

They are questions many are asking as racial tensions still fill the streets in some cities.

But many say anger over the deaths of George Floyd and others has sparked a new civil rights movement. Bigos asked if this is different than fights in the past.

"It feels bigger, it feels not isolated," Irmer said. "It feels like a global movement and you not only see it in cities in the United States, it's across the world now."

Irmer says she's happy to see young people who are leading the way.

"It gives me hope, a lot of hope to see this sustained level of free speech and protest that will hopefully turn the corner," she said. "What we're looking for is the long-awaited promise of America."

Right now, Juneteeth is not considered a national holiday.

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