Juneteenth is a day that celebrates freedom and commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Every year, people come together to remember the past and fight for equality in the present.
Here's a look at the history of Juneteenth and how it has become an important day for the African American community and beyond.
History and Meaning of Juneteenth
Previously on 1 January 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared all enslaved people in Confederate States as free. However, despite their emancipation, not all enslaved individuals were truly liberated, such as those in the strongholds of the South.
Juneteenth is from the combination of “June” and “19”. This significant date marks a historic day for the African American community. On 19 June 1865, Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and read aloud a proclamation announcing the end of the Civil War and freedom for all enslaved people.
Another long 156 years later, Juneteeth officially became a federal public holiday on 17 June 2021. Though the holiday has only been around for a year, it celebrates a centuries-old dream of freedom and equality.
What Juneteenth Represents
1. Fight for equality
For too long, people of colour have faced discrimination and inequality. Many Blacks were still not able to vote despite the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1868) that grants them the right to citizenship. They were systematically turned away from voting polls through intimidation, literacy tests, fraud, and poll taxes.
Equality is not a guarantee. It needs to be fought for every day in every way. Many men and women, most notably Martin Luther King, protested and finally turned the tide. The 1965 Voting Rights Act was created to prohibit states from using methods of excluding African Americans from voting. Previously, only an estimated 23% of voting-age blacks were registered nationally, but this had jumped to 61% by 2016. These brave individuals of the past fought for equality, so more of us in the present could be treated with fairness and respect.
2. Power of perseverance
Juneteenth is a time to remember the power of perseverance and resilience in the face of struggle. It’s a day to celebrate those who have overcome numerous obstacles and still persevere today. African Americans have become economically better off in 2019, with the black poverty rate being 18.8%, which is half of that in 1966. Even when faced with violence and opposition, African Americans fought fearlessly and tirelessly for their freedom and eventually won. For generations afterwards, their resilience has been an inspiration to us all.
3. Making real change in this world
Despite significant progress over the past century and a half, the world is still far from achieving full inclusion and equality for all. For example, the blacks’ wealth disparity with the whites still remains significant and the gap can be narrowed further.
Juneteenth has evolved a lot since it first started in the 1800s. It has changed in many ways and grown with the times. Today, Juneteenth is more than just a celebration—it's a call to action. We stand in solidarity with the Black community. As we commemorate this pivotal day in history, we acknowledge that there is so much more that we can do to support the Black community and fight for change.
We’d like to share a few channels you can connect with to show your support for Black Lives and Communities of Colour or to simply get educated:
- Black Lives Matter
- Black Visions Collective
- NAACP Legal Defense Fund
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Reclaim the Block
- The Bail Project
- Black Career Women’s Network
It’s our time to make the next difference.