Juneteenth is a holiday that has been celebrated for over 156 years in African American communities but in recent years it has gained greater recognition and acceptance throughout the country. Finally, this year, on Thursday, June 17, President Biden signed legislation enshrining June 19 as the national day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
“All Americans can feel the power of this day, and learn from our history,” Mr. Biden said at a ceremony at the White House, noting that it was the first national holiday established since Martin Luther King’s Birthday in 1983.
The first Juneteenth celebration occurred in Galveston, Texas where slavery persisted until 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln. On June 19th, 1865 black enslaved folks in this town were finally notified by Union soldiers that they were free and that slavery was illegal.
During the pandemic, many Juneteenth celebrations were held virtually, but during a typical year, you can expect a lot of music, food, parades, and performances. Many refer to Juneteenth as our second Independence Day. Newly freed people danced, cried, sang, and made plans for their new future. Regardless of the new freedom and excitement, black people were treated as second-class citizens for decades more. The end of slavery did not constitute the end of discrimination, segregation or countless inequities that still persist today.
Juneteenth made freedom legal, and closer than ever, but it did not mean immediate change. Segregation continued well into the twentieth century. Juneteenth celebrations persisted and they bridged individuals together through their shared pain and experience.
We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves and children about racial equity, diversity and inclusion and their absence in much of America’s history. Equality and equity are still not accessible to all.
Check out these local organizations committed to racial equity, and find out how you can get involved.
Check out these resources to learn more about Juneteenth: