Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom and Resilience

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When Frederick Douglass delivered his speech “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” in 1852 before the start of the Civil War, he laid bare the distance between the country’s founding ideals and the reality of life for millions of enslaved people. Thirteen years later, on June 19, 1865, 2,000 Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of both the Civil War and slavery to 250,000 people still in bondage. 

Juneteenth, sometimes referred to as our country’s second Independence Day, became a time of celebration in Texas that has spread across the nation to recognize the resilience and freedom of African Americans. 

With the stroke of a pen in 2021, President Biden made June 19th the newest federal holiday, which he described it one year later as, “a day to reflect on both bondage and freedom — a day of both pain and purpose. It is, in equal measure, a remembrance of both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, as well as a celebration of the promise of a brighter morning to come.” 

Arriving two weeks before Independence Day, Juneteenth confronts a hard truth about U.S. history. Especially considering that 250,000 Texas slaves – and countless others around our country – were denied their freedom during the period after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. This miscarriage of justice ran counter to the American ideal and the beliefs of people who considered freedom and justice foundations of our nation.

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“Great nations do not ignore their most painful moments — they face them,” President Biden noted in the 2022 White House Juneteenth Proclamation. “We grow stronger as a country when we honestly confront our past injustices, including the profound suffering and injustice wrought by slavery and generations of segregation and discrimination against Black Americans. To heal, we must remember. We must never rest until the promise of our Nation is made real for all Americans.”

Or as poet Maya Angelou succinctly put it, “The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.”

If you want to learn more about Juneteenth, visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture Juneteenth collection, and the Texas State Historical Association Juneteenth page

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