Reflecting on Juneteenth
By: Sydney Kovach
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The observation of Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. Juneteenth is marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is also a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment and self-improvement.
What is Juneteenth?
Because there were not many Union troops in Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, the executive order did not have much of an impact on Texans. On June 19, 1865 – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed – Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
The reasons for the 18 month gap in the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and its enforcement are up for debate. Many believe the messenger who was tasked with bringing the news to Texas was murdered on his way, while others think the news was deliberately withheld by enslavers to hold onto their power and maintain their labor force. Whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained the status quo 18 months beyond what was statutory.
We now celebrate Juneteenth as an opportunity to reflect on the century-and-a-half struggle of progress towards equity. In doing so, we acknowledge the significant roles and contributions of African Africans throughout the history of the U.S. On June 17th, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
“Let's make Juneteenth a commemorative, not of the horrific institution our country embraced, but rather as a showcase of the strength in the American spirit to recognize wrong and set about making it right. In this same spirit America moves ahead today in leveling playing fields and achieving ever greater equality. Let us celebrate all that Juneteenth teaches us about our country's greatness in our use of the heart to hear and to learn and to work together for all that is good and just.” – John Albuquerque