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Juneteenth in the spotlight after being made a federal holiday

Updated: Jun. 20, 2021 at 9:46 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Some people in Cedar Rapids say the Juneteenth celebrations on Saturday meant a little more after President Joe Biden declared it a federal holiday.

Juneteenth is the day that marks the last enslaved people being freed in Texas in the wake of the civil war.

“The ‘American experience’ isn’t just my experience, there are different facets, and I strongly believe we have to listen to all experiences,” Mike Wilhelm, of Cedar Rapids, said.

Wilhelm said his experience as an American was a lot different than his Black fiancée, Tony Thrash. The two celebrated their third year together as a couple at the Cedar Rapids Juneteenth celebration.

“There are so many different layers to fight racism and equality,” Thrash said.

The couple said the celebration felt bigger now that Biden signed the law, which easily passed both chambers of Congress, making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

“It’s not just one of those things that’s under the radar,” Thrash said. “It’s on the books now.”

While this day was now getting recognition, it has been celebrated for 150 years, and over 20-years with the Cedar Rapids African American Museum.

“It’s a formality that was long overdue,” Lanisha Cassell, the executive director of the museum, said.

Cassell said this was just the first step. Now, she hoped more people will educate themselves about history.

“Hopefully this raised awareness and people start to think more critically about what other points of history we need to know about,” she said.

The education and discussion she hoped continued, like the conversations between Wilhelm and Thrash every day.

“For me, as a White American, It was a journey to really change my perspective and see his experience,” Wilhelm said.

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