SPOKANE, Wash. - The sounds of celebration and worship spilled out of the gym at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in East Central Spokane on Sunday morning.

At what they called a "city-wide Juneteenth worship ceremony," pastors from various congregations and community leaders spoke to the importance of the date.

On June 19, 1865, a group of slaves in Galveston, Texas, found out they were freed–which came more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863.

"We are celebrating 157 years today," Reverend Amos Atkinson Jr. of Calvary Baptist Church said.

Speeches today traced Juneteenth from its origins through it becoming a federal holiday last year, and ensuring the day's meaning doesn't get lost in the wash as just another day off on the calendar.

"I guarantee you my grandmother–who was born in 1910 in Mississippi–couldn't even imagine that we'd have a holiday celebrating Dr. King, let alone Juneteenth," Pastor James Watkins of the Spokane Ministers Fellowship said.

"We need to pay homage to our elders, because our elders bore the brunt of the segregation and of the racism," Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Walter Kendricks said.

The theme of the day: unity and education, from the day's keynote speaker Reverend Atkinson Jr.

"We see that we can come together as a community and thrive," Reverend Atkinson Jr. said. "The message of the day is that we still have a long way to go, but we are free, and that we have people in leadership that we can depend on who we can lean on in this journey."

"Juneteenth is not a day off, it's a day on," Sandra Williams from the Carl Maxey Center said. "It's a day to reflect and remember what has gotten us here, and to put that in action."

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