Juneteenth celebrations go virtual during coronavirus pandemic as country calls for racial equality

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The celebration of Juneteenth, the day commemorating when news of the end of slavery reached Texas on June 19, 1865, has taken on different forms 155 years later.

This year, amid the coronavirus pandemic, many celebrations went virtual. But the messaging about Juneteenth’s significance might ring truer and louder this year, as the country calls for racial justice reform.

“We believe that recent events have clearly shown that what freedom means is a very relevant question even today in 2020,” Herb Ganey, Executive Director of the Student Union at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said during a virtual event Friday.

“This virtual event is a chance for us to come together as a community and reflect on what freedom and liberation means to us,” UTSA student Grace Onokoko said.

Emancipation is also memorialized at the Texas Capitol. The Texas African American History Memorial was erected in 2016 and honors the contributions of African Americans in Texas. The central portion of the monument commemorates Juneteenth.

“It’s a celebration of freedom, when the slaves were freed, and they became freedmen and freedwomen throughout our country,” State Rep. James White, R-Woodville, the only Black Republican in the Texas Legislature, said.

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1963 by President Abraham Lincoln, it took approximately two years for the news to reach Texas.

“After the war between the states came to a close in the spring of 1865 General Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, that June, and signaled that the 250,000 slaves would be emancipated,” UTSA professor Karla Broadus said.

Other events offered continuing education and tools for African Americans to trace their heritage.

“You should digitizing your history, like yes, you should have a scrapbook, you should have books written and tucked away in a chest. But you also should have something that people can migrate to online,” kYmberly Keeton, Austin History Center African American Community Archivist Librarian, said during a virtual event Friday.

Juneteenth has been a Texas holiday since 1980. A recent push by members of Congress to officially become a federal holiday is pending.

Earlier this year, Texas became the fifth state in the country to establish an African American Studies course for high school students.

According to the Texas Education Agency, Juneteenth is taught in Grade 4. In the curriculum, students are expected to “describe the origins and significance of state celebrations such as Texas Independence Day and Juneteenth.”

“It is so important that Texas students learn all aspects of the rich and complicated history of our state and nation,” State Board of Education Chair Dr. Keven Ellis said through a statement Friday afternoon. “Because of this, our state board has prioritized the teaching of ethnic studies. Texas was the first state in the country to approve a standalone course in both African American Studies and Mexican American Studies. Both of this courses were approved unanimously with bipartisan support.”

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