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Home Front: First Juneteenth Tour Celebrates Freedom 

It took two and a half years from the time Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation for the last 250,000 slaves in Galveston, Texas, to learn of their freedom. They were informed June 19, 1865, and Juneteenth has since become a holiday celebrating their independence.

One of Richmond's most important historic neighborhoods will mark the occasion June 17 with the Juneteenth House Tour in Historic Jackson Ward, featuring 10 homes.

After the Civil War, the neighborhood was where the black middle class emerged, says Bill Martin, director of the Valentine Richmond History Center. "It was home to so many important institutions," he says. "Black-owned banks, black-owned businesses, entertainment."

But after I-95 bisected the neighborhood in the 1950s and urban renewal tore down old buildings and plopped in new ones, the neighborhood has declined. In 2001, it was included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered Places List.

"This is such an important thing," Martin says. "It reinforces that pride of place that's already there, and lets the community in on what is one of Richmond's special places."

The Juneteenth House Tour in Historic Jackson Ward takes place June 17 from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $19. For more information, call 938-3726.

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