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Juneteenth Freedom Festival puts a spotlight on history and the path ahead

Since it became a national holiday last year, more people are learning about Juneteenth, and Monday’s Wilmington Freedom Festival offered another chance to explain its significance.

Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 when word of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, Texas, letting those who were still enslaved there know they were free.

But over 150 years later, the historical importance is lost on many.

Gov. John Carney says Delaware takes a step toward reversing that when a law requiring a curriculum on Black history in schools goes into effect this fall.

“It’s also a reminder of a spotty past here in our state in particular, and the needs for changes and improvements to secure the future for all Delawareans,” Carney said."

Branden Fletcher, an organizer with the homeless campaign and the Black Caucus, agrees - the national holiday is an opportunity to seek progress on many fronts.

“It’s good to celebrate and it’s good to be out here, but there are things that we want to see like equity in the healthcare system, in the housing system, in the criminal justice system," Fletcher said. "We want to honor our legacy and our history but also be conscious of the battle that we still have to fight.”

Fletcher adds that Juneteenth celebrations are also an act of resistance in response to the rollback of voting legislation and opposition to teaching Black history in schools.

But Sylvia Lewis-Harris, Co-founder and President of the Delaware Juneteenth Association, says the message of Juneteenth goes beyond a single day.

“All year long we’re teaching self-determination, we’re teaching to be proud of your ancestral culture. And we don’t want it to become commercialized like Christmas did because this is about history, and you can’t erase history. It happened, it is what it is, and as Americans, we have to take stock in the good and the bad.”

The consensus is that education is crucial, and several organizers agreed with Lewis-Harris that having Juneteenth declared a national holiday last year offers an opportunity to educate and spread a message about equity.

Lewis-Harris adds the work that youth in organizations like the Juneteenth Association are putting back into their communities is building a Juneteenth legacy.