Juneteenth is a day for celebration and reflection


Today is Juneteenth, a federal holiday commemorating the freedom of enslaved African Americans in the United States. The holiday traces its roots to Galveston, Texas, when, in 1865, Union soldiers delivered General Order No. 3, declaring the freedom of all enslaved Black people in the United States to one of the most remote federal outposts in the country.

Juneteenth is a day for celebration and reflection - The Freedom News

When Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to begin fully enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation, the law granting enslaved Americans their freedom had already been on the books for more than two years.

Just think about that, enslaved people endured 30 more months of slavery in Texas after President Lincoln granted them freedom.

And, because non-Confederate states still practiced slavery, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery in all the United States, would not even be ratified for six more months after that.

People in Galveston celebrated that day as Juneteenth, and, in 1980, Juneteenth became a Texas state holiday.

More than 40 years later, on June 17, 2021, it became a national holiday, although it is still not uniformly observed.

The delay in delivering word of the end of slavery to Galveston was understandable in the context of the time, though not necessarily forgivable. Texas was a part of the Confederacy and even if Union couriers had been able to deliver the news behind enemy lines, it’s unlikely they would have been welcomed by local journalists, elected officials or law enforcement, let alone slave owners.

What is shameful and inexcusable is that today, almost 160 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, we the people of the United States have yet to deliver on our promise of equality in education, voting rights, employment opportunities, access to financial capital, health care or public safety for Black people, Indigenous people and other marginalized communities.

Right now, in the United States, racial discrimination and segregation continues to be far too common in our social, economic and legal systems. All show clear signs of ongoing race-based profiling, oppression and abuse.Even worse, white supremacist movements are on the rise again, emboldening politicians and pundits to increase, rather than decrease, inequality in our nation.

In education, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has spent more than 30 years documenting evidence of racial segregation and discrimination. The data is clear. Black students are disciplined more harshly than their white peers, and students of color are far more likely to be placed in lower-ability classes, special education programs and alternative schools that segregate them from their white peers and limit their educational opportunities.

During that same 30-year timespan, the GAO has shown a continued unwillingness by banks to provide small-business, farm or home loans to Black families looking to invest in their future and build generational wealth.

Today is Juneteenth, a federal holiday commemorating the freedom of enslaved African Americans in the United States - Tthe Freedom News

Black women are two to three times more likely than their white peers to die of pregnancy-related complications, even when correcting for income and insurance coverage.

Black men, on average, receive harsher sentencing or even the death penalty more frequently than white men who are charged with the same or a similar crime.

And so-called “voter integrity laws,” like voter ID, disproportionately prevent Black people from voting because government offices where IDs can be obtained are far less likely to be located in, or even near, Black neighborhoods and communities.

Simultaneously, the FBI reported that 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, saw the highest number of incidents of hate crimes in more than a decade. The data show a 20% increase in racially motivated hate crimes in a single year. And that was despite the national awakening brought on by George Floyd’s killing.

The Day were first celebrated in Texas in 1866. And by the late 1970s, with the advocacy of heroes like Rev.

Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Grandmother of Juneteenth, Opal Lee, Juneteenth celebrations with 100,000 or more people were reported in cities from Texas to Wisconsin and California to Washington, D.C. Just last year, Lee was present in the Oval Office when President Joe Biden recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Unfortunately, with ongoing efforts to disenfranchise Black voters; continued discrimination and segregation in almost every aspect of everyday life, and a rapid uptick in bias and hate-motivated crimes, Juneteenth reminds us how far we have left to go to deliver on the promise of freedom, equality, or even safety for Black people in the U.S.

Two weeks from now, America will celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a document that declares “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It took 89 years for that message to be delivered to the enslaved Black people of Galveston, Texas, and another century before the Civil Rights Act created mechanisms to enforce rights for Black people. Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate recently blocked attempts to reaffirm the Civil Rights Act and a Supreme Court packed with conservatives has started to erode those protections.

Black communities are still far from having equal opportunities for prosperity in this country. Today is an opportunity to celebrate the progress that has been made, and the progress that is yet to come. Progress that cannot be realized without all of us, coming together at the polls and in our everyday lives, to stand up for freedom, liberty and equality for all Americans, regardless of the color of their skin.

Enslaved African Americans endured whipping, shackling, hanging, beating, burning, mutilation, branding, rape, imprisonment, and other untold horrors to build America’s wealth and infrastructure. So, while some in our nation would prefer to move on, some of us still bear this vestigial nightmare that defies wakefulness, much less healing, from this historical wound.

Juneteenth is a holiday searching for its true meaning in our American traditions.

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