By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4) – On Thursday, the United States announced a new federal holiday for the first time in nearly 40 years. Inside a house built by slaves, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a national holiday. Juneteenth Music Festival organizers in Denver held a news conference that afternoon to express their support.

Norman Harris (credit: CBS)

“Our country has finally acknowledged the brutality of slavery,” said Norman Harris, organizer of Juneteenth Music Festival. “The only way that we can ever move forward, is if we understand where we have been.”

Harris has planned Juneteenth festivals for nearly a decade, but this is the first year June 19th has been a federal holiday.

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Dr. Apryl Alexander, an associate professor at University Of Denver, there’s a lot of education that needs to be done about what Juneteenth actually represents.

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“I’ve been giving keynote speeches on Juneteenth and a lot of people didn’t even know about Juneteenth and its history,” said Alexander.

Juneteenth is missing from many history books throughout the United States. Some states have recently proposed legislation to limit teaching about racism. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbot signed a law that prohibits teachers from conducting lessons about systemic racism — also known as Critical Race Theory.

“The state of Texas celebrated Juneteenth for the longest. It’s the origin of Juneteenth, and now it’s a federal holiday, but they just banned Critical Race Theory. So in essence, you can’t even teach about the history of Juneteenth in the state of Texas anymore,” said Alexander.

Students at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College helped create a curriculum that includes Black, Latino, Asian and Indigenous history.

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“The students at DPS right now are really fighting for ethnic and race studies in schools. They want to know their history. They want to know where they came from. They want to see those models that are just not outside of slavery or this whitewashed version of history. They want to see themselves in their history and show all the richness that we had, as well as some of the things that we had in history that are not so good,” said Alexander.

While Juneteenth got the necessary votes to become a federal holiday, there are still many opponents to making June 19th observed nationally. Some against Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday don’t understand the African American community’s desire to look back.

“People say ‘Oh that was in the past. Oh, it wasn’t that serious. Oh, we’ve moved on so much,’ but we haven’t. There are so many things that we’re still fighting for in terms of equality. That what’s Juneteenth is about,” said Alexander. “If you look at the doctrine, it talks about actually having equal access for all people, and we’re still not there, even in 2021,” said Alexander.

Tori Mason