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Juneteenth Festival Focuses On Celebration, Education

Thousands gathered at Independence Park in Charlotte this weekend to celebrate Juneteenth. That's short for June 19th. The date back in 1865, it's believed, that the last remaining black slaves learned that they were free.  

Credit Tasnim Shamma
Oneita Williams, seated, talks to visitors to the Frederick Douglass Library at the Juneteenth Festival.

Charlotte's Juneteenth celebration started off as a block party. It began 17 years ago, and it was focused on the food, the music and most importantly, celebrating. 

But this year, there's more of a focus on education.

A makeshift-museum and library is not from the stage. Oneita Williams is the librarian.

"As we grow, the more we see the importance of educating others," Williams says. "And so, sometimes, we can't get enough across on the stage. So we have books that will also offer information."

And there's a black history exhibit. Twenty-year-old Keita Baba leads a tour. She teaches visitors about how African-Americans became free. She doesn't skip over the difficult parts, but like previous Juneteenth celebrations, it's still a happy holiday.

Credit Tasnim Shamma
A sculpture of Harriet Tubman, by Sankofa Baba, is part of the Juneteenth festival's black history exhibit.

"One thing that we don't want to do is focus just on the slavery aspect," Baba says. "As you walked down the longer portion of the entire exhibit, the beginning -- it shows you the glory of who we used to be and who we truly are as a people. "

This is after all the equivalent of Independence Day for African-Americans. Vendors line the streets of the park offering artwork, hair products, perfume, oils, food and traditional African clothing.

David Goldfield, a history professor at UNC Charlotte, says the celebration may have begun in Texas, but it's gained traction in other states, including North Carolina.

"It not only involves or is limited to African Americans, but it's celebrated by everybody," Goldfield says. "After all, our country really benefited from the emancipation of four million slaves."

Organizers estimate more than 20,000 people attended the four-day celebration.