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Family events mark the anniversary of slavery's end

About a decade ago, leaders at Schenectady's Hamilton Hill Arts Center were looking for a fair or festival that they could make their signature summer event.

They decided on Juneteenth, a national commemoration of the end of slavery. This year, Hamilton Hill will stage its eighth annual Juneteenth celebration, a three-day extravaganza featuring food and fun for all ages, from Friday to Sunday, June 13 to 15.

It's huge, said Tony Gaddy, Hamilton Hill's public relations coordinator. "People look forward to it all year. It's a great community event."

Schenectady isn't the only place local residents can take part in observing Juneteenth. In Albany, the Arbor Hill Community Center will hold its fourth annual Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 14, at 10 a.m. Other celebrations are slated throughout the state.

That's heartening for the Rev. Ronald V. Myers Sr., chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. His organization works to bring greater attention to Juneteenth, hailed as "America's second Independence Day." Vermont recently became the 29th state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance (New York did the same in 2004), and celebrations are held across the country, even in states where Juneteenth has not been formally recognized.

"It's great to see," Myers said. "It shows how we're moving forward as a nation."

Juneteenth recognizes the events of June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, when Union General Gordon Granger announced freedom for all slaves in the Southwest -- more than two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Former slaves were jubilant after the announcement, creating what is considered the country's oldest African-American holiday.

In Schenectady, an information table and books will spell out the story of slavery and Juneteenth. True to the spirit of the day, there will also be plenty of entertainment and activities that won't put a dent in anyone's wallet.

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