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Juneteenth: how the new federal holiday became a household name

Some have celebrated Juneteenth for years since its inception 156 years ago while others are just now finding out about this gem of American history

SAN DIEGO — Just this week, 156 years after all slaves were free in America, Juneteenth is recognized as a federal holiday. It's recognition across the country was decades in the making. 

Some have celebrated the holiday every year since its’ inception. Others are just now finding out about this gem of American History.

Professor Emeritus of Ethnic Studies from San Diego Mesa College, Starla Lewis shared some insight on the holiday. 

"When the emancipation happened, the slaves in Texas, enslaved Africans in Texas didn't get the information for two years. There are different reasons why they think that happened but there's no true clarity on why it happened. They think it was because the Texans wanted them to finish the cotton crop," Lewis said.

While questions about the delay remain, what we know for certain is that Juneteenth's roots and meaning run deep. 

Lewis said omissions of history like that are all the more reason Juneteenth deserves the national spotlight. 

"We're taught a very small version or caption and it doesn't include all the contributions people of color. It's not all about the trauma of enslavement. It's about the contributions that were made as well," Lewis said.

After George Floyds murder in May 2020 and the disparities uncovered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, There's been a renewed calling for highlighting the black life experience in America. 

Our country is having a reckoning with its past in hopes of a brighter future. 

And it could start with honoring a day where our nation began to live up to its full potential: that all men are free. 

"It's really about a way of celebrating and respecting your fellow Americans," Lewis offered. 

That celebration can start with knowing our past so we are not doomed to repeat those mistakes while continuing the fight to stand up for the ideals that this nation was built upon. 

Lewis said, "It's also for African Americans the recognition that we freed ourselves. It was the byproduct of so many soldiers fighting in the civil war. It's the byproduct of years of resistance and rebellion."  

“Remember, F is for freedom. Whatever folks say - whoever can give it can take it away. And so, I believe that we were born free and it's our job to maintain our freedom," Lewis said.

News 8’s Keristen Holmes shares how the holiday has a deep personal meaning for her. 

"Growing up in Arkansas, my family celebrated Juneteenth like so many other families. We commemorated the day in church with speakers and discussions, in our communities and amongst our families with barbecue gatherings, soul food and music. It was a day where we were to honor our ancestors, love on our loved ones and take pride in our culture and our Blackness. It's my hope that now that Juneteenth is getting national attention, that there's more of an emphasis on celebrating our differences while embracing one another as we come to terms with our past and work together to build a better future for everyone. It's my hope that this is only the beginning."

WATCH: Meaning behind symbols included in Juneteenth flag:

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