DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA)—“I think it’s due time. I think it’s overtime that these people should be honored and remembered,” said Evelyn Hood with the African-American Cultural and Genealogical Society of Illinois Museum.
Juneteenth is officially a federal holiday. 95-year-old Civil Rights activist Opal Lee is known as the grandmother of Juneteenth.
“People need to be aware of that freedom. We consider Juneteenth that bridge to freedom,” said Lee.
Evelyn Hood works at a museum in Decatur. She says the history goes back to slavery and the Civil War when black soldiers fought.
“We were still enslaved but because of Frederick Douglass, he was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. He talked to him about let the men prove they were men because we were not citizens. We were not people. We were property,” said Hood.
About 40,000 black soldiers died in the war. They contributed to the Union defeating the Confederacy.
“Once he convinced Abraham Lincoln and he saw the lives that were lost during the Civil War, he had compassion enough to write the Emancipation,” said Hood.
The document gave freedom to slaves in the Confederate states, but not everyone knew they were free. Word came to Galveston, Texas two and a half years after the document was signed. It was June 19, 1865. That day is known as Juneteenth.
“How on earth am I supposed to express the joy? How am I supposed to express all the years that we have worked and for it to come to fruition on the backs of so many people,” said Lee.