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Juneteenth’s history and meaning explained by African American Civil War Museum director | USA TODAY

Frank Smith, director of the African American Civil War Museum, explains the origin of Juneteenth and its journey to becoming a national holiday.

RELATED: What is Juneteenth? The holiday’s history and significance, explained.

Charles Hicks, known as “Mr. Black History,” remembers hosting Juneteenth events in the 1980s at the main public library in the heart of downtown.

The event showcased poetry, music, panel discussions and activities helping Black residents trace their family history. It started with about 15 people, but over the years grew to as many as 300 packed in the library’s lobby.

“Black pride made a major difference,” Hicks recalled of the growing interest. “What we started as a seed grew into a garden. Now, there are many gardens.”

Though Juneteenth celebrations happen across the country, Hicks, community groups and other residents in the nation’s capital have long commemorated what became a federal holiday last year. This summer, the city will be the site of more events, including a three-day festival organized by musician Pharrell Williams. Officials hope others will follow their lead and embrace Juneteenth as an American holiday with equal importance to, say, July 4th or Memorial Day.

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