Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. It is also often observed to celebrate African American culture. Originating in Galveston, Texas (southeast of Houston), Juneteenth was originally celebrated on June 19, 1866. That date marked the first anniversary of the day that African Americans in Galveston first learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, more than two years after it was initially issued by President Abraham Lincoln.
On June 17, 2021, a bill originally sponsored by Senator Edward Markey, with bipartisan support from 60 co-sponsors, was signed into law by President Joe Biden. The name Juneteenth comes from combining the words June and nineteenth. Juneteenth has become not only a national holiday to commemorate Black liberation from the institution of slavery but also a time to highlight the resilience, solidarity, and culture of the Black community. It is a time for Black Americans to reflect on their ancestral roots.
There’s also sentiment to use the day to remember the many sacrifices that were made for freedom in the United States. As Para LaNell Agboga, Museum Site Coordinator at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center in Austin, Texas, stated, “Our freedoms are fragile, and it doesn’t take much for things to go backward.”
If you find yourself talking to someone who doesn’t know what Juneteenth is or who tries to use it as a way to stir racial division – take a moment to fill them in. Juneteenth is a day for recognizing America as an exceptional nation. A nation that, though flawed, was built on humanity’s highest ideals and endowed with a constitutional framework that allowed us to right our wrongs throughout our history. Every nation has scars from its past. No matter who you are, slavery is a piece of America’s history, and working with each other towards equality for all is an integral part of building a positive future for generations to come. Each of us has the important job of teaching our youth the larger story of the history of slavery in America – certainly not to shame or to divide, but to put it in its proper context as the considerable and formative part of American history that it truly was.
Make Juneteenth a day of celebration at your work, recognize Juneteenth’s importance throughout the year, elect to give your employees the day off, or participate in a local Juneteenth parade, picnic, or festival. The Juneteenth celebration is a time to acknowledge our past faults, help heal current divisions, and move toward a future as a nation more united.