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East Tennessee organizations celebrate Juneteenth, reflecting on dark part of U.S. history

Juneteenth is meant to commemorate the day enslaved people in Texas learned about their freedom, in 1865.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. officially has a new federal holiday this week, after President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth Independence Day Act. Now, the U.S. will officially recognize June 19, Juneteenth, as a momentous day in history.

The holiday commemorates when enslaved people in Texas learned about their freedom on June 19, 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed two years earlier, in the midst of the bloody Civil War. It gave slaves in the rebelling states freedom, but many stayed enslaved as the war continued.

Rev. Renee Kesler from the Beck Cultural Center said that Juneteenth is a part of American history and that it is good for it to be honored.

"I think every time we take a step toward acknowledging our history, we're taking a step in the right direction," she said.

Federal officials also shared their support of the new holiday. Employees with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had the day off, and the park shared a quote about Juneteenth to celebrate it.

"While a dark period of time, slavery is an important part of our shared history, and it's fitting that we commemorate Juneteenth as federal employees," they said.

Around Knoxville, many community organizations are also celebrating Juneteenth now that President Biden made it a federal holiday. The YWCA gave its employees the day off so they could reflect on Juneteenth's importance.

Large corporations like Target, Best Buy and Allstate took Juneteenth off last year and some said they plan to continue celebrating the day, reflecting on this part of American history. 

“It's very important to have other people in our community and organizations that also support that,” said Kesler.

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