Saturday was a day of reflection for many who attended the 16th annual Juneteenth Heritage Festival. For others, it was a day to celebrate and showcase talent in the African-American community.
The festival in Jefferson City kicked off with the annual emancipation program, where Lt. Col. Eddie Brown, retired Missouri National Guard serviceman, discussed the history behind the Emancipation Proclamation and how it did not lead to the immediate freeing of all slaves in the United States.
The annual program was at Soldier Memorial Plaza on Lincoln University’s campus.
Juneteenth is a celebration of when the last slaves were freed in Texas, two years after President Abraham Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
For Brown, Juneteenth is a time for reflecting on the good and bad during a time of segregation, especially for African-American men who served their country.
He said the Selective Service Act of 1917, which initially called for men between ages 21-30 to register for military service, did not create equal opportunities for black men to enlist.
For example, Brown said though there was no specific language of segregation pertaining to enlisted men, black men who registered were asked to tear the bottom half of their draft card so they could easily be recognized.
At that time, blacks could not serve in the Marines and could only perform certain duties in the Army, Navy and Coast Guard. By the end of World War I, though, that changed, and officer training schools began accepting African-American men.
Despite continued injustices, Brown said African-American soldiers fought with distinction.
“By the time World War II came around, many African-Americans didn’t see this war as their war, but they fought with distinction,” Brown said. “Fighting for a country that really didn’t see them as equal.”