New York, NY
by: Sekou Kaalund
When is U.S. Independence Day? For most Americans, Fourth of July comes to mind. For Black Americans, there is another date that holds historical significance. In a famous Independence Day keynote, Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave and abolitionist, lamented that “the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, [aren’t] extended to us.” When President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation outlawing slavery in September 1862, independence — or freedom — did not actually occur for all enslaved people until June 19, 1865. Over two years later, news of Civil War ending finally reached Blacks in Galveston, Texas. That day came to be known as Juneteenth — a blend of “June” and “nineteenth” — and it commemorates the day slavery ended in the United States.
Juneteenth is the oldest known holiday in the United States celebrating the end of slavery and the freedom of all people. It’s recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Communities across the country come together to celebrate with parades, picnics and barbeques. What Juneteenth signifies feels particularly relevant today. It’s a symbolic representation of delayed freedom — and reminder that racial inequality is not a thing of the distant past and much work remains to be done.
Let’s honor Juneteenth this year by committing ourselves to standing together for the inclusion and fair treatment of every human being.