CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Juneteenth Committee Chair in Charleston Ray Whiting says that for many Americans, June 19th marks a second independence day of their very own.

Juneteenth celebrations continued in Charleston on Wednesday, June 19, the official holiday. The Juneteenth Committee held a parade downtown with events and festivities following that at City Center Slack Plaza for the rest of the day.

President Joe Biden officially deemed Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021 and Governor Jim Justice followed suit the same year officially declaring it a state holiday.

However, the day has been being celebrated by African Americans for 159 years after slavery was fully eradicated on June 19, 1865.

Whiting said that when America gained its independence from British rule in 1776, it would be another nearly 90 years before all African Americans would be able to experience their freedom in the country.

“1776 to 1863 we were still slaves, so black folks didn’t get a chance to celebrate Independence Day, but on Juneteenth we became free just like America did in 1776,” Whiting said.

Juneteenth celebrates the total emancipation of all slaves in 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

Some were still enslaved in Galveston, Texas following the Emancipation Proclamation. Those slaves were not granted their freedom until Major General Gordon Granger ordered the final enforcement of the proclamation.

Whiting said former slave and abolitionist Fredrick Douglas gave a speech on July 3, 1852 entitled ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ He said the speech pointed out the harsh contrast between the country’s founding principals of liberty and freedom, and the reality for millions of black people who were still enslaved at that time.

He said Wednesday’s event was not only about the celebration of Juneteenth but the educational aspect behind it that young people in particular can learn from.

“This here is something more like a teaching moment for the younger generation, because the holiday which was declared by President Biden is only less than five years old,” he said.

Juneteenth is the newest federal holiday since Martin Luther King day was declared a holiday in 1986.

Arts and crafts activities, book sales, and organizations handing out information on social issues in the country were all aspects of Wednesday’s Juneteenth event.

Bobby Robinson was at the celebration with his organization, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Alpha Chapter. He said the organization has been a sponsor of the Juneteenth celebration every year since its inception in Charleston.

Robinson said as Omega Psi Phi was started as a way to try and make a difference in the lives of black and brown people, showing up to Juneteenth is crucial for them.

“We as an organization, poor black men in particular, but also helps all people, we wanted to be involved in something that’s always celebrating our freedoms,” Robinson said.

Robinson said history serves as a tool for everyone to learn from to pave the way for a brighter future.

He said Juneteenth becoming a national holiday has helped proliferate the education and awareness behind the significance of the event.

“If you know history you can always build on history to make a better difference for the future generations,” Robinson said. “Personally this is something I’ve been celebrating for a long, long time way before it became a national holiday but nevertheless a lot of people didn’t know of it, but through its now national recognition people are learning more about what transpired and how we progressed to where we are today.”

Whiting said Juneteenth has been being celebrated publicly in Charleston for three years. He said it has been being celebrated in Texas for much longer.

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