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Juneteenth is a time to reflect on America's racial history

This Juneteenth celebration shows people riding horses through Washington Park on June 19, 2020, in Chicago.
Natasha Moustache
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James Varner, who organizes the local Juneteenth celebration to mark the end of slavery, talks near the statue of a slave emerging from an Underground Railroad tunnel on display at Chamberlain Freedom Park in this 2017 file photo. Credit: Nok-Noi Ricker / BDN

Today is Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day and Black Independence Day, and celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 during the Civil War, and declared that all persons held as slaves shall be free. But it wasn't until the end of the Civil War, on June 19, 1865, that slaves in Galveston, Texas learned from Union soldiers that they were free. Their owners had refused to acknowledge the Emancipation Proclamation.

Athena Lynch is a Portland artist and activist and says she has celebrated Juneteenth for more than 10 years.

"I think a lot of times we think of looking back as moving backward. No, we're still moving forward," Lynch said. "But you also need to look back and acknowledge the people who came before you that were trailblazers, or systems or situations or things that simply happened in the past. We still need to acknowledge and respect and honor them."

Lynch wants Mainers attending Juneteenth events to learn America's racial history and to acknowledge all communities of color.

"I want people to take away a sense of broader community and overall awareness and acceptance of others in their community and being open to other perspectives, cultural experiences and celebrations as well," Lynch said.

Lynch is hosting a Juneteenth celebration in Congress Square Park in Portland at 1 pm Sunday. Numerous communities across Maine are holding Juneteenth events this weekend. Juneteenth became a federal holiday last year, the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.