WACO, Texas (FOX 44) – Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday last year. But, James Elliott and his family have been celebrating the holiday for as long as he can remember. June 19 has even become the date of his family reunion.

Elliott and his family have worked to uncover five generations of family.

“Our great great grandfather, Jackson Turknett, was born in the year of 1828 into slavery,” Elliott said.

His great great grandfather, Jackson, was freed in his middle years.

“Jackson Turknett was able to work by land and have a working farm by 1870,” Elliott said.

Because he had that property, he could vote.

“Which was something during that time, because this is the first time that blacks and enslaved people were able to vote,” Elliott said.

Jackson’s son George was born enslaved in 1858.

“He was taught to read and write by his the slave masters children,” Elliott said. “And as you know, it was illegal to teach enslaved people to read and write.”

He flourished in his freedom.

“As a young man, he was able to go before the board of education, take a special test, passed it, and he became a teacher and a preacher,” Elliott said.

Beyond the five generations, Elliott is still working to find more, but it get’s harder.

“Blacks were not on the census form until the 1870s,” Elliott said. “Before that, they counted as cattle or whatever.”

Elliott’s father always stressed remembering June 19.

“My father always told us, remember, don’t ever take freedom to be granted,” Elliott said.

He wants Juneteenth to be appreciated by everyone. It means a lot to him to see how far the we have come because everyone deserves an equal chance.

“The best thing for us to do today is to do the best we can while we can, and understand that all people are human,” Elliott said.

Elliott emphasized Juneteenth is not just for the Black or African American community. It’s a freedom celebration for everyone.