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Johnson County, Kansas, residents celebrate first year of Juneteenth as county holiday

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Posted at 5:14 PM, Jun 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-20 00:23:41-04

OLATHE, Kan.  — Dozens of Johnson County residents celebrated Juneteenth this weekend at the county square. Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, notifying the news of the Emancipation Proclamation and finally ensuring the freedom of all enslaved people in the state.

“Today I’m especially proud to be a Black man in America celebrating Juneteenth as a holiday,” said Bobby Collins, an Olathe resident at the event.

Collins is reminiscing on those who paved the way and what it means for him and his wife to pass on history to their great-grandchildren. The thought hits closer to his heart on Father’s Day.

“It means being able to celebrate, actually me, and plus all Americans because this is for all of us,” said Diria Collins, Bobby's wife.

Juneteenth has been greatly celebrated by the African American community since the 1860s, but it took more than 150 years before President Biden declared it a federal holiday last year.

Rachel Matlack, a resident from Overland Park, believes society still has a long way to go, but coming to events like this feels like a step in the right direction.

“I think that when we share our stories, there is something that we receive from the person who is telling it," Matlack said. "I felt it when I heard the stories shared today and just how much these people had walked."

The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners followed Biden’s declaration and announced Juneteenth a county holiday last October.

For Luttra Lewis, a longtime Johnson County resident, this is the fruit of her labor.

“Twenty-three years ago, we started Juneteenth here. I was a part of that,” Lewis said.

She is proud to see her granddaughter read about what she did right there in the square all those years ago.

“That means everything — to be able to leave a legacy that we are here,” Lewis said.