UTICA, N.Y. - As Juneteenth is celebrated around the country this year, many say this year's commemoration has a different feel to it than in years past.
First, a look at the the history behind Juneteenth.
President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863 freeing slaves across the country but that executive order was ignored by confederate states until two and a half years later when, on June 19th, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas announcing the end of the Civil War and that all those who were enslaved were now free.
Those federal troops remained in Texas to enforce the freeing of slaves.
Patrick Johnson, a longtime activist in Utica, says this historic day of June 19th, 1865 has been celebrated for years on this date each year, but he says this year, the commemoration has a totally different feel, "We’ve been celebrating Juneteenth here in the city of Utica and I know other cities have been doing it too, it has more significance now. The symbolism of this holiday is equally as important now as it was hundreds of years ago."
Johnson has been an activist in Utica working on race relations in the city for more than a decade, "We didn’t start doing this last week, we didn’t start doing this because of the George Floyd incident and tragedy, we’ve been doing this for 15 years."
The name 'Juneteenth' is a combination of "June" and "Nineteenth". It's also known as African American Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.
Johnson says the images caught on camera of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minnesota less than a month ago on May 25th will forever be remembered for the discrimination that still exists in our country and he believes it will also be remembered for the beginning of what many are hoping is real change, "In my lifetime and I’m a middle-aged black man, I’ve never seen so many white people on board for justice and fairness around these issues, I’ve never seen it like that before so that’s why am optimistic."