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Juneteenth Acknowledges Struggle, Perseverance of Black Americans

Story originally published by Eric Tegethoff of Oregon News Service. Click to access the audio story.

Today is Juneteenth, which commemorates independence for enslaved people in the United States.

In 2021, Juneteenth National Independence Day became a federal holiday. It marks the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were told they were free - nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Now, celebrations occur across the country, including in Oregon. Equity and Work Culture Manager for Oregon Food Bank Joshua Thomas said on Juneteenth he honors his ancestors.

"It's so important for us to be able to acknowledge the day," said Thomas, "acknowledge what our ancestors went through - for us in the present moment to rest, to be able to do the things that they weren't able to do."

Events are marking the day across the country, including the Freadom Festival book event in Portland.

Rachael Lucille Van Klompenberg is the network communications specialist for Oregon Food Bank. She said Juneteenth is not just a celebration for Black people.

"For non-Black folks and non-people of color, this can represent an opportunity to recommit the work that needs to be done to combat anti-Black racism," said Van Klompenberg. "So, yes it is a holiday for Black folks to rest and restore but also a time of reflection for white people."

Christina Wright is an inventory specialist with Oregon Food Bank. She said her great-great-grandparents were enslaved - but generations who came after them struggled, including her grandparents as sharecroppers.

Wright said it's important that they kept perservering and strove to succeed.

"Their resolve, their strength is living in me and even though some things in society today feel insurmountable, it's that will, that drive that makes things better for the generations after me," said Wright. "Because I can only live the life that I live because of their strength and the very, very hard system that they lived in."

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