ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Over 150 years ago, the Emancipation Proclamation declared all slaves in the U.S. free.

Juneteenth marks a pivotal moment in American history.

“Our Ancestors went through a lot for us to be here and I think we should always recognize why we’re here and I think Juneteenth is just a reminder of that,” said Tommy Meeks, chairman of Rockford’s Juneteenth celebration.

Hundreds came out to commemorate Rockford’s 29th Juneteenth celebration.

“Juneteenth started after the Civil War was over on April 10th,” Meeks said. “The slaves did not know the war was over, so they kept remaining as slaves. General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and let those slaves know that they were free and they started celebrating Juneteenth on June 19th.”

Performers paid homage to ancestors through song and dance at the Ellis Art Academy.

“We need to know that music is a vital part of our heritage and we should celebrate that in every way,” said Dorothy Paige-Turner, educator and performing artist.

Dorothy Paige-Turner says Juneteenth is celebrated with music because it symbolized freedom as it was passed down from generation to generation.

“There were songs that were signaling that Harriet Tubman was coming or that the Quakers were coming or something to take them on the Underground Railroad,” Paige-Turner said. “The slaves sang their way to freedom. The Civil Rights Movement they sang their way to freedom. We have always used music as the key to our freedom.”

Paige-Turner says events like this ensure future generations know their history.

“So if our young people and people your age and my age and younger do not know where we came from and where we are now, they won’t know where we’re going,” Paige-Turner said.

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