GALVESTON, Texas (CBSNewYork) — Juneteenth marks the day when enslaved African Americans in Texas learned they were free.

It was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation because slave owners didn’t share the news.

CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas spoke to a man who has traced his family tree all the way back to that time.

“We don’t have to believe in make-believe people and make-believe places like Wakanda. We have real people in real places like Galveston, Texas, Sealy, Texas, Brazoria,” said Samuel Collins III, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Collins and his family have called Galveston, Texas, and the surrounding areas home since at least the mid-1800s.

His ancestors were among the last group of slaves to learn about their freedom from Union General Gordon Granger, who shared the news in 1865.

“Benjamin Bonner came to Texas as a 10-year-old enslaved child in 1852,” Collins said.

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For more than a decade, Collins has been discovering his family tree.

“He received his freedom, then he registered to vote. Then he eventually got married, bought land and worked that land,” he said. “So he started trying to build a life.”

Some of that land is still owned by the family to this day.

The information first started to emerge during talks with his great-grandmother.

Ma Dia, as she’s affectionately called, was born in 1907 and lived to be 104 years old.

Names Collins never knew emerged that he could cross reference with ancestry databases, census and voting records.

“Some of my ancestors, I’ve been able to find their marriage licenses online from the 1860s and 1870s. To look at that document and know that they were beginning the family there together is just priceless,” Collins said.

RELATED STORY: Gov. Andrew Cuomo Signs Executive Order Making Juneteenth A Paid Holiday For State Workers

Each bit of information told a story.

Some of it was painful.

“My fourth great-grandfather, his mother was an enslaved woman and his father was the enslaver. So there in Sealy, the white Josey’s and the black Josey’s were related but nobody ever talked about it,” Collins said.

Realities woven into the fabric of his being that Collins honors on Juneteenth and beyond.

“For me, it’s like the oak tree. You see me but a lot of individuals, you don’t see the roots and those roots give you strength to survive the storms,” Collins said.

Plenty of storms they survived and still thrived.

The love, resilience and hope passed down for generations that has widely been omitted from the history books.

With the heightened awareness, Collins hopes his efforts, along with others’, to make Juneteenth a national holiday will finally be realized.


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