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Beck Cultural Center celebrates Juneteenth with new emancipation exhibit, downtown Knoxville event

The outdoor exhibit opened Saturday morning at 10 a.m. alongside the Juneteenth Memorial Tribute.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For many people, Juneteenth is a chance to celebrate freedom and honor people who were enslaved in U.S. history. To many others, it is a chance to reflect on a dark part of history, learning about slavery and emancipation in the country's history.

To celebrate the holiday and engage the community, the Beck Cultural Exchange Center unveiled a new emancipation exhibit. It is found outside, next to the Juneteenth Memorial Tribute, and teaches people about the history of emancipation in East Tennessee and across the U.S.

For Juneteenth, many people also gathered in the World's Fair Park to celebrate the day that all enslaved people in America gained their freedom.

“It feels good to be out here today and to see so many people and the rainbow of colors of everybody,” said Monica Smith-Albright, who was at the Juneteenth event. 

The Beck Cultural Exchange Center honored this day for years with annual events, but Saturday was even more special. It marked a day in history when Juneteenth was recognized by the federal government.

“And we're also celebrating that we have a new and federal holiday,”  said Renee Kesler, the president of the Beck Center. 

This week President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth Independence Day Act. Some who were at Saturday's celebration believe the new federal holiday represents an opportunity for growth in America. 

“I think today is the beginning of digging deeper,” said Kesler.

Some attendees said that the new federal holiday will give everyone a time when they can reflect on slavery and the parts of U.S. history that may be hard to understand.

“And now this new federal holiday is acknowledging this history. I think it forces us to then reckon with some of that history,” she said. 

Reflection isn't always done by looking at exhibits. At the Juneteenth event, some people pondered the meaning of the holiday through art and poetry, expressing themselves through their creativity.

It ended with Pastor Daryl Arnold of Overcoming Believers’ Church as the keynote speaker. He spoke about remembrance and moving forward. 

"Don't forget where we came from. It is essential to look back to move forward,” said Arnold.