A night of awards and performances highlighted the African American community’s past, present and future in Tyler.

The Texas African American Museum hosted its first pre-Juneteenth celebration Saturday at the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Tyler.

Shirley McKellar, who is running for Tyler City Council District 3, spoke about the significance of Juneteenth, which commemorates the date in which the news of the end of slavery arrived in Texas.

“It is incumbent upon us to remember and honor our forefathers who stood right here on the grounds of East Texas, almost a century and a half ago, and fought (so) that we may have this freedom,” she said.

The event recognized younger generations with two dances by the New-Birth Tyler Praise Dancers, comprised of high school performers. Some of the participants presented portrayals of Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Barack Obama and other historical figures.

Awards were given to people who have been influential in the Tyler community, said Gloria Washington, Texas African American Museum executive director. Organizers named a Juneteenth royal court by honoring four individuals, crowning them with the titles princess, prince, queen and king.

Historian Denise Pendleton, who was crowned Juneteenth princess, spoke about history’s importance. Younger generations are often disinterested to learn about history but should realize what they do today is history tomorrow, she said.

“You’re making history today,” Pendleton said. “And years from now, it will be very significant what you do, so take this opportunity to be the best you that you can be and make history today.”

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