CALGARY -- Saturday marked the 156th anniversary of the end of slavery in the U.S. as Calgarians gathered to appreciate and reflect on the time racial reckoning.

Juneteenth is a combination of the words ‘June’ and ‘19’ – a commemoration of June 19, 1865 when union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the American Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free.

The announcement was a full two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which took place on Jan. 1, 1863.

A couple hundred people attended a celebration Saturday at Shaw Millennium Park for the celebration.

Taylor McNallie with Inclusive Canada says racism in Calgary and across Canada is far from over, but has instead taken new forms.

It’s why she’s honouring Juneteenth as a day to continue the fight for change, equality and a true celebration of diversity.

“Black people are still being lynched, still being murdered by police, there are still so many policies that need to be changed down to classifying what is a hate crime, to accessibility in health-care, to what’s being taught in our schools,” McNallie said.

“Holding events like this brings that form of understanding and communication and sharing.”

Meanwhile, other grassroots activists like Autumn Eaglespeaker, who is a member of both Black and Blackfoot Indigenous communities, is calling on government leaders to evoke real change.

“It’s important to acknowledge this day as a way of moving forward and revealing the true histories in Canada and the United States,” she said.

“We must eliminate race-based policies and legislation which includes the eradication of the Indian Act, for the federal government to implement the actual 92 calls to action for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Saturday’s celebration comes just a couple days after U.S. President Joe Biden signed legislation into law declaring Juneteenth (June 19) an official federal holiday.

This year, Canada voted to recognize Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day, which marks the day when the British Empire abolished slavery.

In Alberta, the first Monday of August known as Heritage Day is also a civic holiday which is historically connected to the end of slavery as it celebrates the diversity of all people.

CALGARY JUNETEENTH INCLUSIVE LITERATURE PROGRAM

The U.S. consulate in Calgary has partnered up with Calgary Reads to donate books that are inclusive in celebration with Juneteenth.

Lucia Piazza, the U.S. consul-general in Calgary, says it’s important for the younger generation to gain an understanding of racial history and create awareness.

“Really it’s designed for young Calgarians to see themselves reflected in literature and allow young people of colour to be empowered and proud of their individual culture, identity and history.”

So far, 360 books have been donated to share the history and culture of Black Americans.

Education is especially important for young Calgarians like 10-year-old Zinhle Xenis.

“It’s so amazing how so many people are standing up for the racism that is out there because I’ve seen a lot of racist people and it’s not nice for them to be doing that and it just hurts,” she said.

“It’s important for people my age to learn about this because this is something we need to recognize in the world that racist people should stop, this is not a good thing.”