STERLING - There was an extra note of celebration to this year’s annual Juneteenth event Saturday.
Juneteenth commemorates when all enslaved black people learned they were free 156 years ago. While the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the South in 1863, it wasn’t enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War two years later. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach all enslaved black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas.
The Diversity Committee of the Sauk Valley hosted a celebration at the YWCA of the Sauk Valley with information about the holiday, family activities, a variety of vendors and food and drinks.
Juneteenth was recently declared a state and national holiday, adding to recognition across the country.
“Every year is special, but seeing it become a national holiday makes it even more special,” committee President Tina Wren said.
Recognition has grown during the years, especially last year coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights efforts, Wren said.
“I think as we educate people more and more, it becomes more important,” she said. “You’re never too young or too old to learn about why we’re celebrating.”
Supporting businesses and organizations included the Walmart Distribution Center in Sterling, JW’s 3rd Base in Rock Falls, the YWCA, Culver’s in Rock Falls, Church Women United and several local churches.
“We’re your community, and we’re your family and your friends,” Wren said. “The Sauk Valley is a family community, and we should all be able to celebrate together.”