June 19, 2022

Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. on June 19, 1865. It is on this day that Major General Gordon Granger delivered General Order No. 3 to the people of Galveston, Texas, informing them that the Civil War had ended. The holiday commemorates when slaves in Galveston, Texas were informed of their freedom! President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation effective January 01, 1863 did not apply to the states of the Union. However, Constitutional Amendments XIII, XIV and XV (passed by Congress on 01/31/1865, 06/13/1866 and 02/26/1869 respectively) did.

Originally, a Texas-based celebration, the recognition and celebration slowly spread throughout the nation after African American families migrated to other parts of the country. This celebration was often a time where friends, families and communities would come together to celebrate the occasion, and recognize the ongoing struggle they faced.

While the holiday originates from 1865, today many are not aware of the holiday and its history. An article from the New York Times, written in June 2021, reported that more than 60 percent of Americans know nothing about the holiday. Even for those aware of the holiday, only a few know about the basis of the holiday and what it means for those who celebrate it.

As a federal holiday, Juneteenth is not just a holiday of remembrance for its history, but also a reminder of the continued struggle for equality, to dismiss discrimination and embrace inclusion. Even after the emancipation of slaves, conditions that mirrored slavery remained long after June 19th, 1865. Positive steps made through private philanthropy and Church-based missions, as well as widespread schooling efforts at the end of the Civil War were easily frustrated by localized political maneuvers leading to Jim Crow laws that resulted in a multitude of discriminatory acts like race-based housing restrictions known as redlining as well as racially assigned bathrooms and seating.

Federal holidays, allow us to remember the past and celebrate its history, but in most cases, that is where its relevance ends. This is what makes Juneteenth such a special holiday. It is a holiday that actively reminds us to reflect on how far we have come, and how much farther we need to go. Inspiring us to be better than past generations, and cultivate a nation where discrimination is not just frowned upon, but is erased altogether.

With Juneteenth here, it is that time again to look back and take stock of where we are as a nation. It is important to understand that in order to move forward, an honest evaluation of present time is imperative to making enlightened change.

Here are just a few (of the many) facts to keep in mind:

  • In 2016, the national median household net worth of black households was $17,150, while the median household net worth was $171,000.
  • Black loan applicants are turned away by banks, at a higher rate than white applicants are.
  • Black communities are more likely to be located in “fence-line communities” defined as areas adjacent to facilities that create hazardous waste, exposing African Americans to air that is 38 percent more polluted when compared to communities that are largely white.
  • Black Americans are incarcerated close to five times the amount that white Americans are incarcerated. Those imprisoned are repressed from society in ways that prevent them from attaining wealth, further enabling the financial disparities between black and white Americans.

Each of these points embraces several nuances and minutiae, but the first step in initiating any debate is stating the matter (or matters) outright. This is the nature of democratic society: to persuade, and not coerce. Being aware of and understanding the struggles that inform the everyday lives of various American minorities will hopefully kindle widespread empathy, which can lead to positive, long-term changes.

Understanding the inequalities that occur in our society today helps mark how far we are from ideas of equivalence and impartial processes, equal representation before the constitution, which can unite our nation, and celebrate our differences, not purge them. What makes systemic discrimination viable in today’s society? What are the roots; economic, societal, geographical and otherwise? How can we abolish it? Can we abolish it?

Juneteenth is a holiday that prompts us to answer these questions and push for change. It’s a day that inspires us to never settle for anything less than equality and equal opportunity for all. Despite the presence of discrimination today, there is hope for future generations to one day live in a world where everyone is treated equally. Until then, what can we do today to ensure a more equal future for tomorrow?