Juneteenth’s Meaning Then and Now
We often talk about the history of Juneteenth. But it’s more important to talk about how the origins of this holiday must move us toward a better future.
Juneteenth may have just become an official federal holiday in 2021, but it is actually the oldest national celebration of the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans and the ending of slavery in the United States. Originating in Galveston, Texas, Juneteenth, a combination of June and nineteenth, has been celebrated each year on June 19 in various parts of the United States since 1865.
More recently, though, Juneteenth National Independence Day – also known as “Freedom Day” – has become a day to celebrate a pivotal point in American history, African-American culture, how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. As we grapple with increases in racially motivated violence, it’s important that we acknowledge the truth of our past as a country and how racism, bigotry and violence are cancers in our society. Engaging in courageous conversations can be difficult. Acknowledging and examining our biases can be challenging yet enlightening. At our core, we have more in common than what divides us. The desire for freedom is intrinsic and universal.
As Herbert Hoover once said, “Freedom is the open window through which pours the sunlight of the human spirit and human dignity.”
So, when we celebrate Juneteenth alongside Pride Month, we celebrate the ability to be our authentic selves, be treated with dignity, respect and equity, and to support freedom for all.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
How Will You Celebrate?
Juneteenth celebrations usually include barbeques, African American cuisine, and lots of fun. But I challenge you to celebrate in more tangible ways. Celebrate and support freedom for all by…
- Being an ally.
- Standing up against discrimination.
- Creating a sense of belonging.
- Reconsidering stereotypes.
- Thinking about whose voices are represented (and whose voices are not represented).
- Making connections, asking questions, and listening to others’ stories.
- Considering your actions and reactions.
- Volunteering or donating to organizations that support the rights of marginalized populations.
- Supporting Black-owned businesses.
- Contributing to the United Negro College Fund. (You can donate via Zebra’s campaign here.)
- Educating yourself on Black history because Black history is American history.
Most of all, spread love!
Did You Know?
Though the Emancipation Proclamation became law in January 1863, it could not be enforced in places still under Confederate control. It took over two years for approximately 250,000 enslaved persons in Texas to learn their freedom had been secured by the government. On June 19, 1865, a Union General rode into Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended, and slaves had been freed.
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