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How the history of Juneteenth affects us today

Reflecting on the past helps to shape the future.

AUSTIN, Texas — On June 19, 1865, slaves in Texas found out they had been set free, two years after the order had been signed by President Abraham Lincoln. For more than 250,000 former Texas slaves, Emancipation Day had finally arrived.

Faded pictures tell the story of Juneteenth celebrations of days gone by, with people dressed in their Sunday best, enjoying a new life after their prayers for freedom were fulfilled.

"All my folks, aunts, uncles, mothers, cousins talked about was Juneteenth, because that was the day freedom came to Texas," said lifelong Austinite Nathaniel Bradford. 

The 79-year-old said Juneteenth was the day that drew everyone he knew to the east side for parades, barbecues and softball, to celebrate their independence.

"Wherever you lived, you were going to make your way to Rosewood Park and Doris Miller Auditorium, because that's where everything happens. The Fourth of July came and went and nobody really cared because we had Juneteenth," Bradford said.

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Juneteenth is also a time for many to ask themselves what freedom really means. It's a question the Pastor of St. James Missionary Baptist Church, Dr. B.W. McClendon, hopes young people will think about.

"I'm 68 years old, born in 'Jim Crowism,' living in the fear of being killed, lynched, going to the back door," he said.

Dr. McClendon said with what's happening in our nation right now, reflecting on the past may be the only way to shape the future and what it holds for Black people in America.

"It's now bringing new and refreshing emphasis on the plight of slavery and still the fallout of being the descendants of slaves," he said. "It's a time of reflection, a time of celebration, to know how far we've come and still how far we have to go."

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