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The history of Juneteenth and what it means during this time

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Juneteenth is a celebration marking the end of slavery in America.

But this year, during a time where Black Lives Matter protesters are fighting against police brutality and for police reform, many are reflecting on the message this holiday brings.

For a lot of younger people, this may be the first time they have seen racial justice protests to this scale.

But in reality, Juneteenth has a deep history.

“Juneteenth is a celebration has been going on in the African American community, you know, for over 100 years,” Dr. Darryl Heller the Director of the IUSB Civil Rights Heritage Center said.

But Juneteenth isn’t as recognizable as other holidays.

When asking people on the street what day it is, many didn’t know or knew a small bit about it.

“It has something to do with liberty of slaves,” Sam Jones, one resident said.

“Isn’t that the day they did emancipation,” Spencer Johnson, another resident said.

“A march or a unity something like that,” Anthony Gibbons, a third resident said.

While a few others did let me know the importance of this holiday.

“It means a lot for our ancestors and us. It’s the day that we are free from slavery. Black lives matter. Now people are starting to understand what we go through and it’s a beautiful thing. Something to celebrate,” Dana Gary, one resident said.

“Juneteenth is the day that people that were free from slavery found out a couple of years later their freedom was hidden from them. I think it’s important to recognize finally freedom for all,” Kate Jones, another resident said.

January 1st, 1863 - was the day President Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation -- abolishing slavery in the united states

But it was not the day that all slaves in America were free.

“Slavery officially ended with the end of the Civil War in April of 1865. However, slaves in Texas, the last kind of stronghold before union troops back there, weren't told them the emancipation until June,” Heller said. “Actually June 19, when the union soldiers came and made the announcement and so it became a day of jubilation.”

Heller said that’s why Juneteenth is celebrated today. The holiday marking the official end of slavery.

“I mean, it's just a reminder, and a resurgence for people of color in between but, you know, I think for the nation as a whole, that we have to live up to the ideals that the emancipation of slavery didn't end racial oppression. And so that fight continues,” he said.

Now the current climate is putting a spotlight on Juneteenth celebrations.

“We particularly are witnessing that ongoing struggle. You know, that was really marked by what happened with George Floyd. But the ongoing protests and demonstrations that we see in our cities and around actually around the world, acknowledging that that fight for equality, equity and inclusion is not the fight is not over,” Heller said.

But it’s also creating an added narrative to progress change in our communities.

“Progress is never really a straight line. And so some of the challenges and changes that are being, you know, enacted now, including the police disciplinary matrix, you know, the ongoing conversation of a civilian review board, I think are important steps to transform, well actually not transform but to reform, the south bend police department,” he said.

The Juneteenth flag also has meaning. The colors red white and blue echo the American flag, but it’s also a reminder that the enslaved people and their descendants were American.

The star in the middle is for Texas and the star outline represents a new beginning.

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