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A Juneteenth event at Eastlake Park in Phoenix included health screenings and vendors. (Cronkite News Photo/Alexis Kuhbander)
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Arizona residents mark Juneteenth, want more taught about emancipation

A Juneteenth event at Eastlake Park in Phoenix included health screenings and vendors. (Cronkite News Photo/Alexis Kuhbander)

PHOENIX – When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, giving slaves their freedom, it took more than two years for news to travel to Galveston, Texas.

June 19, 1865, became the real day of freedom for Texas residents.

More than 150 years later, Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, according to a national Juneteenth organization.

Juneteenth particularly resonates for many African Americans but isn’t taught in Arizona schools, said several people attending weekend events in Arizona.

“This is our Independence Day,” said Redeem Robinson, who is running for an Arizona state Senate seat in District 30 at an event in downtown Phoenix.

The Valley of the Sun Juneteenth celebrated Saturday at Eastlake Park Community Center with health screenings, presentations, film screenings and workshops.

Latanya Darden, with the Phoenix Black Nurses Association, offered free blood-pressure checks.

Darden said several organizations provided education, health, employment and other resources.

Gershom Williams, a spokesman for the Eastlake Park event, said he has been celebrating Juneteenth for more than 30 years.

“It is very important, so meaningful that we convey the importance to our young people, to the next generation. This is our Independence Day, our emancipation day,” Williams said.

Loreal Harper, sitting at a Wells Fargo booth, said she was just telling her eight-year old son, Mason Harper, to honor Juneteenth.

“It is important because we didn’t have Facebook, we didn’t have instant messenger, a lot of the people didn’t know until later that they were free,” Harper said.

“It’s American history, so it should be a part of classroom studies. The history behind it is important for everyone to know and to keep going back and researching.”

James Heiskeol, from the School of Hip Hop Phx, said information about Juneteenth is missing from the classroom.

“It’s not something you’re going to get access to in a history class,” Heiskeol said. “History books are written from one side, and they briefly touch on different subjects.”

Leaders of the Juneteenth event at the Tempe History Museum also emphasized the importance of education.

“It’s wonderful to have events like this where people can bring their children, families can gather and learn, and interact,” said Michelle Brooks-Totress, who chaired the Saturday event.

Brooks-Totress said her parents encouraged her study about African-American and Black history outside of school.

“It is not being taught in school. I learned it outside of my school classroom because my parents would give me extra money for extra book reports,” Brooks-Totress said.

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