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'We were free' | Southeast Texans share why Juneteenth is important, what it means to them

June 19 is defined as a holiday celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the US.

BEAUMONT, Texas — Juneteenth was officially made a federal holiday in 2021. It's a holiday to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.

And Southeast Texans go all out to celebrate.

“Juneteenth is the date that we as African Americans found out that we were free,” said Bobbie Patterson with 100 Plus Black Women Coalition.

Juneteenth is defined as a holiday celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the US.

The holiday was first celebrated in Texas, where on that date in 1865, in the aftermath of the civil war, slaves were declared free under the terms of the 1862 emancipation proclamation.

For some, it's just a holiday. But for many others, June 19 has a deeper meaning.

“We should not only look at it as a celebration of what we are doing and contribution with may,” said Vernon Durden with 100 Black Men. “We should also look at the historical relevance while even though there was an emancipation proclamation signed by Lincoln, it was also delayed. Similarly, to the same way things are being delayed today.”

Predominately Black organizations here in Southeast Texas acknowledge June 19 as a day to celebrate independence, something so many have fought so hard for. 

But Patterson said even though there's progress, there's still a lot of work that needs to be done.

"We're not really free until we can have and know that we have the same voting rights as everyone else,” Patterson said. “And as many people know, in these terrible and perilous times, we are fighting to keep our rights to vote.”

And Durden agrees. He said to keep making progress, the older generation must educate young people so they truly understand Juneteenth’s significance

“We have to move out of the way, mentor, and bring some young people up to take our place so that this world can be a better place for all of us,” Durden said.

One of the ways you can learn more is by attending a local Juneteenth event. Beaumont Mayor Robin Mouton said events like these help bring the community closer.

"The privileges that we have today came on the blood, sweat and tears of so many people that came before us,” Mouton said. “We are not who we are just because we are. It's because of the fight and the change that so many that came before us, fought for.”

RELATED: List of Juneteenth events happening as Southeast Texas celebrates freedom

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