Yesterday was America’s Juneteenth and today we have a federal holiday that allows every employed American to take a day from work to consider what this holiday is all about.
On June 19, 1865, some two months after Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va., those in Galveston, Texas were informed that enslaved African Americans were free and the Civil War was over. This was a long 2.5 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Texas was the first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980. Today all 50 states and the District of Columbia recognize the day.
In 2016 Opal Lee, who suffered at the hands of white supremacists at the age of 12 when they burned down her house, walked from Ft Worth, Texas, to Washington, DC, to get Juneteenth established as a federal holiday. She was 89 at the time. Every day she walked 2.5 miles to symbolize the 2.5-year gap between the Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth, 1865. When President Biden signed the holiday into effect, she stood at his side at the age of 93. That’s her above.
There will no doubt be commercialization and lots of cookouts by people who have no idea what the holiday is about. That happens with each of our federal holidays. But, we can do the right thing. I am taking some time today to understand why this holiday has received federal recognition and to honor my Black brothers and sisters whose ancestors made the long, hard journey through soul-despairing oppression.
On Juneteenth we stand together with different perspectives looking at a common achievement with our hands on our hearts – sometimes breaking, sometimes full of gratitude.
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
— Malcolm X