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Some Arizonans say Juneteenth recognition is just the beginning

Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 12:09 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -- Members of the southern Arizona community say they are surprised - in a good way - that Juneteenth is on its way to becoming an official national holiday.

Some members of the African American community say the milestone is undoubtedly something to celebrate but warn there is still more work to be done.

“Finally something has been recognized that is about how we were enslaved and how we actually were free from slavery,” said Annie Sykes, The President of the Black Women’s Task Force.

On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, where they notified the nearly quarter-million people still enslaved in the state that they were free - two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Now - just days before the 156th anniversary - the June 19 celebration known as “Juneteenth” is awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature to become a federal holiday in the U.S.

“This is a federal holiday. This is not one of those holidays where you can take off or not,” said Sykes.

She says her ancestors would be shocked to hear today’s news. But she wants people to remember that when the freedom announcement was made all those years ago the problems didn’t just disappear.

“There were some things that followed that were just as constricting as slavery because on the heels of that came the Jim Crow Era and the rise of the KKK,” said Sykes.

“Any step forward is in the right direction,” said Desiree Cook, a master hairstylist.

Cook says recognition of the holiday is a start but says education is a path to real, impactful change.

“Put yourself in the African American shoes and understand what we had to go through just to survive,” said Cook.

As celebrations begin for this year’s Juneteenth, both women urge everyone to educate themselves and then celebrate the holiday to honor the millions of Americans who spent their lives enslaved.

“It shouldn’t just be the African American community celebrating on this day it should be all walks of life,” said Cook.

“We’re going to need our allies and people’s like-mindedness to reach out to us,” said Sykes. “If we can come together we may be able to beat this.”

Both women say because of this news they expect celebrations to be even bigger this year.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.