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'We've been given freedom:' Local historian explains the importance of Juneteenth

"Juneteenth is our future and our past."
Posted at 6:52 PM, Jun 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-03 19:52:42-04

MILWAUKEE — We're about two weeks away from one of Milwaukee's biggest parades and celebrations, Juneteenth Day.

The name comes from a blend of June and 19. It's the day in 1865 when the last enslaved person learned they were free.

That's when union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, telling the final enslaved people they were free. This happened two years after President Lincoln issued it.

For decades, Juneteenth celebrations filled the streets of Milwaukee, but beyond the food and music, the day symbolizes an important day in African American history.

"We are celebrating Juneteenth or June 19 1865," said Clayborn Benson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society. "When the Civil War is over and when African Americans new themselves as free people."

This is what you need to know about Milwaukee's Juneteenth Parade

Benson reminds people, the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people living in confederate states, but it's not the official day slavery ends in the United States.

"Yes, we've been given Juneteenth as our holiday, but the 13th amendment is when we got our freedom," Benson said.

Freedom, that's what is being celebrated and Milwaukeeans have been coming out for decades on Juneteenth.

Benson has been attending Juneteenth celebrations since the first event was held in Milwaukee. He said thousands of people filled the streets from Burleigh all the way down to North Ave.

Crowds have only gotten larger and the route even longer.

Tony Kearney is the executive director of Northcott Neighborhood House, which hosts the celebration. He said this year will be no different.

"We're trying to keep it alive to make sure that there is another 51 years of celebrations," Kearney said.

He believes there is an opportunity to learn through the celebrations.

"We want people to understand that Juneteenth is our future and our past all at once," he said.

It is a sentiment shared by others in the community.

"The importance of economic development- the importance of voting all of those things were tied into Juneteenth Day," Benson stated.

It is a reminder of how far we've come and what still needs to be done.

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