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Archive for Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Juneteenth spirit spreads

June 20, 2001

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— For many blacks, Juneteenth is the real Independence Day.

People across the country Tuesday commemorated June 19, 1865 the day slaves in Texas learned of their freedom more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The news came from Union troops who landed in Galveston.

"It's a celebration of freedom that we finally got," said 48-year-old Austin resident Fennis Scott. "You have to let the kids know where they came from. If you don't know where you came from you don't know how far you have to go."

While the day has long been marked with informal family celebrations, many cities and community groups now sponsor their own Juneteenth events. So far, Texas is the only state that recognizes Juneteenth as an official holiday, but it is increasingly being celebrated in other parts of the country.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a resolution commemorating the day by a vote of 415-0. Juneteenth festivals were held over the weekend in Atlanta and Denver, and about 160 people gathered Tuesday in Pine Bluff, Ark., for music, dancing and a historical skit portraying Maj. Gen. Robert Granger's proclamation to Galveston.

A large crowd gathered Tuesday for a parade in Austin, where Gov. Rick Perry rode in the front car and threw candy to people on the sidewalk.

In Dallas, 43-year-old secretary Vera Smith kicked off the city's celebration by singing "His Eyes on the Sparrow" to an audience of about 200. She was followed by a senior citizen group that performed a hip-hop gospel song and a fashion show of West African dresses.

"The kids today need to be thankful," said Helen Bible, 82, one of the models. "They look up to the athletes, but they shouldn't forget what happened a long time ago."

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