Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. Going forward, the country now recognizes Juneteenth each year.
Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring the abolishment of slavery as of January 1, 1863, freedom was slow to come, especially for African American slaves in the western-most rebelling states. It took not just the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, but also the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (abolishing slavery) and the Reconstruction Amendments (14th Amendment provides citizenship, due process and equal protection and the 15th Amendment provides the opportunity to vote and hold public office) to finally end slavery throughout the nation.
In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday and several others followed suit over the years. Support emerged to make Juneteenth a federal holiday following national reckoning on race triggered by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black Americans, as well as nationwide protests against police brutality.
In June 2021, Congress passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday and President Biden signed it into law on June 17, 2021. It is the first federal holiday to be enacted since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was established in 1983.
The legacy of Juneteenth illustrates the power of African Americans’ perseverance, strength, resilience, and refusal to give up hope, even in the toughest of times. However, June 19, 1865, did not mark the end of their journey towards achieving freedom, equality, and justice. It was only the beginning.
Juneteenth is a time to reflect on the work that remains to be done to address institutional racism and systemic inequality.
Let us recognize the accomplishments of those who have fought long and hard for civil rights and social justice and acknowledge the work that we must continue to do.
June Simmons, the Board and Executive Staff