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Chippewa Valley reflects on history and future of equality for Juneteenth

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - Leaders and historians in the Chippewa Valley held a virtual Juneteenth celebration on Friday, reflecting on the history of the day, and how racism still affects the lives of people of color today while still striving for equality.

Slavery in the United States ended just over 150 years ago, but one would only need to go back a couple of generations to find someone who was once considered a slave.

That's why Juneteeth, the day word of emancipation finally reached Texas, is still celebrated in 2020, and the role Black people had in it is still recognized.

"One of the cool things that is important to always remember, is that it was Black soldiers who helped spread the word in regards to presenting the information to that last holdout in Texas," said Dr. Le'Trice Donaldson, assistant professor of U.S. and African American history at UW-Stout.

Just because June 19, 1865, was the day slavery was fully eradicated doesn't mean it was the day racism in America ended. Historians say that Jim Crow laws became the new oppressor, and had a heavy hand in creating the prison system we still see today.

"Black codes were carefully crafted to create felonies out of behaviors that were normative and acceptable for people of other races," said Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, president of Uniting Bridges and history professor at UW-Eau Claire.

In northern states, "Indian Codes" served a similar purpose, even in the Chippewa Valley.

"Here in Eau Claire, I have run across other kinds of material in our newspapers and books written in the early 20th century that shows that there was a definite sense of superiority," said Carrie Ronnander, director of the Chippewa Valley Museum.

The battle to abolish prejudice against people of color is still fought now, as evidenced by recent rallies and protests.

"How can we help our community recognize that systemic racism is not limited to policing? That if we reform or defund the police system, we've solved the problem?" questioned UW-Eau Claire history professor Patricia Turner.

Historians and activists say that it's important to remember the causes that brought rights and justice, but also know that there's more work ahead.

The virtual Juneteenth celebration is going until 8 p.m. Friday. You can join by registering for the Zoom event, or watching it on Facebook.

Mary Pautsch

Mary came to News 18 in July 2019 from Sioux City, Iowa where she graduated from Morningside College with a BA in Spanish after attending Iowa State University for 3 years.

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