Celebrating Freedom Day: Why Juneteenth Matters

a day of freedom, power, & dignity

Juneteenth is not a “new” holiday, even if it has only entered the mainstream (white) consciousness more recently.

A full two-and-a-half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation legally abolishing slavery, Federal troops were deployed to Galvestone, Texas to enforce the proclamation

June 19th, 1865 was the first “Juneteenth” or “Freedom Day” and is the date slavery was finally abolished in the entire United States. It is Juneteenth, rather than the 4th of July, that marks the first day in US history where all Americans were legally born Free.

Juneteenth: An American History through Maps is a great resource for contextualizing the history and timeline of how slavery ended in the United States, as well as the reverberating effects of Abolition and Juneteenth celebrations throughout American history.

juneteenth national independence day act

Juneteenth first became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and then spread to many other states as momentum developed. While this has been a multi-generational issue, it continues to remain relevant to each new youth-lead movement. Black Lives Matter joined the conversation around transitioning Juneteenth to a National Holiday on their blog last year.

As of June 16th, 2021 Congress has passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. It is expected to be signed into law in time for this to be the first year that Juneteenth will be celebrated as a Federally-observed holiday.

So this is a good thing, right? Well, yes, but it needs to be contextualized in the broader pattern of the consistent lack of real systemic changes to protect the lives and wellbeing of Black folks.

To have this legislation passed at the same time that critical race theory is under attack in multiple states causes this victory to feel precarious. Educating about the real, difficult history behind Juneteenth (and about the greater narrative of systemic racism in the US) is essential to authentically celebrate its significance for the Black community and our country’s history.

additional resources

Check out these additional resources for learning about the history or modern celebration of Juneteenth. Particularly if you have young folks in your life, you may find useful the tools aimed at engaging youth with the history of Juneteenth and the collective struggle for Black Liberation.

National Museum of African-American History & Culture: Historical Legacy of Juneteenth

Juneteenth America via ArcGIS: Juneteenth: An American History through Maps

Teach for America: Juneteenth Student Resources

Learning for Justice: Juneteenth Resources

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