By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

The lives of Black Americans has been transformed in the last 150 years. In 99 years of living, Evelyn Blackwood has witnessed and lived through much of that change.

Blackwood celebrated those triumphs and earlier ones she wasn't alive for at the Juneteenth worship service and picnic Saturday.

Joined by five generations of her family, Blackwood - called a "living legacy" by onlookers - reveled in the festivities at the Killeen Community Center. A woman of few words, Blackwood simply described the civil rights successes recounted in speeches Saturday as "wonderful."

As main speaker, Rev. William M. Campbell Jr. highlighted the rich history including the freedom from slavery - which Juneteenth commemorates - the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama's presidency. Campbell's uplifting speech drew a standing ovation from an

audience of about 60 people inside the center.

The inspiration that resonated through the room etched a smile on the face of mistress of ceremonies and NAACP official TaNeika Driver. The speech delivered a call to action for the youth to preserve successes of past generations, Driver said.

"It's going to be up to each and every person to be accountable, to ensure we tap into that history to understand where we came from and how far we've come," Driver said.

Killeen civil rights pioneer Rosa Hereford recognized and honored Blackwood during the worship service. Blackwood, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native is spending two months in Killeen with her family.

For many in attendance, Juneteenth was more akin to a family gathering than a festival. The groups of people, friends and family embraced each other, shared stories of their lives, remembered history and rejoiced. Then they all ate a free barbecue meal, participated in arts and crafts and group discussions.

The worship services, which included a performance by praise dancers from the Anderson Chapel youth group, reminded Blackwood of the opportunities Black youth have.

"It keeps getting better. The young are so intelligent and learning so many things. They are more bright. It's for the better," she said.

Saturday's events concluded three days of Juneteenth celebrations which included a pageant Thursday and a parade Friday. The celebration commemorates the freeing of Texas slaves in 1865, more than two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.

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