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Historians Say This Year's Juneteenth Celebration Takes On Added Significance

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- On Friday, people across the country will celebrate Juneteenth, a commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

Historians say this year's celebration will take on added importance, CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported Thursday.

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There are marching bands, dancing, food fare, and jubilation in Brooklyn. It is all just a taste of how America celebrates Juneteenth. Jamar Vailes and his wife, Ashanti Walker, said it's becoming a cherished family tradition as they raise their children.

"For the last two years we've actually been celebrating Juneteenth instead of July 4, Independence Day," Vailes said.


Kevin Young is director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.

"Juneteenth is a day to commemorate the arrival of the news of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865 in Texas," Young said.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves on Jan. 1, 1863. Slaves in Texas were the last to learn of their liberation, two and a half years later.

On June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to deliver the news that "all slaves are free." Texas began celebrating black freedom annually, coining June 19, "Juneteenth."

"I think it's grown across the South and across the country as a time to think about freedom," Young said. "It's kind of another Independence Day for black folks."

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Over the last 150 years, Juneteenth has evolved into a unified celebration of black history and culture, a time to enlighten, listen and learn. For 25 years, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation has been pushing to make it a national holiday.

"We have hundreds of thousands of signatures on our petition. We're expecting it to get the recognition that it deserves," the NJOF president Steven Williams said.

This year, Juneteenth is being remembered with even deeper intentions, as activists worldwide continue protesting against systemic racism. Several marches have been planned. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared June 19 a paid holiday for state workers. Several companies have made it an annual paid holiday for employees as well.

"Amidst calls for justice and Black Lives Matter protests, I think there is a real thinking about the long resistance that led to freedom," Young said.

Athenia Rodney, of Umoja Events, has been organizing Juneteenth NYC for 11 years, promoting local talent and businesses. This year, it will be virtual.

"The narrative that gets told in the public eye is not always a positive one about the black community. This event, for me at least, is always about how can we change that narrative," Rodney said.

"I want our children to take away empowerment, just knowledge of our ancestors, and just how far we've come," Walker said.

And by honoring their black history on Juneteenth, families hope to fill younger generations with pride and optimism for the future.

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