The summer season in the US includes several holidays celebrated widely across the nation—Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. But do you observe Juneteenth? Have you heard of this day, short for June 19?
Current American history textbooks proclaim Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the end of slavery. Truth be told, slavery remained relatively unaffected in many places, most prominently in Texas. It was status quo for slaves well beyond the Proclamation date—they carried on with their lives of bondage and subjugation oblivious to the fact they were legally free. It was nearly two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended, slavery was abolished, and enslaved people were now free.
June 19 became known as Juneteenth. It is a holiday recognized by nearly all our country’s 50 states as a celebration and remembrance, a kind of Independence Day for African Americans. It is the oldest national celebration commemorating the end of slavery and honoring African American achievement and resilience, and goes further in promoting continuous self-improvement and respect for all cultures. Most commonly celebrated in Black communities, Juneteenth typically features prayer services, memorials, parades, and barbecues. Though attempts have been made, Juneteenth has yet to be recognized as a federal holiday—another reason why few celebrate Juneteenth or are even aware of its existence and legacy.
Our country’s victory over an oppressive, divisive, and immoral system is worth celebrating.
Collectively, we are exploring appropriate ways to reconcile the trauma inflicted on 4 million enslaved people and their descendants, in addition to the impact slavery has had and continues to have on our country. I empathize with the sentiment that a federal Juneteenth holiday would be valuable—in both recognizing a wrong and setting about making it right, and providing a healing moment for individuals, families, and the nation. Coming together as Americans to commemorate such a significant and triumphant day would be an opportunity to find strength and peace in each other. Like Memorial Day, Juneteenth could be a day of conscious focus that binds and connects us. Our country’s victory over an oppressive, divisive, and immoral system is worth celebrating.
In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln referred to sacrifices made on the battlefield as a “new birth of freedom.” Each generation must renew our Founding Fathers’ pledge to do the hard work of forming “a more perfect Union.” In solidarity, we must remember the past to avoid repeating its mistakes. We must continue to work toward a society where all are appreciated, loved, respected, and included. Let us use this day to fuel our fight for liberty and justice for all. We are one in humanity.