“A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country –- what I’ve long called America’s original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity.” (President Joseph R. Biden, A Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance, 2021, June 18, 2021).
Celebrated on June 19 each year, Juneteenth is a beacon for dignified and disciplined action toward advancing racial equity in all aspects of human life. But this historic event did not take place on that sweltering day in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called upon America to honor its promise to African American/Black citizens for jobs, democracy, and racial justice. Nor did Juneteenth occur 100 years before when President Abraham Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
It was not until Frederick Douglass rang the bell of freedom that Juneteenth came to be. Douglass reminded America that the Nation is not truly independent until everyone—of all races—is free. There is a consistent expression that Juneteenth is much more than remembrance as evidenced by Douglass’ 1852 speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
Remember and Celebrate!
Rightfully, Juneteenth is a celebration marking the end of the deplorable practice of chattel slavery in the United States of America. Thus, nearly 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, enslaved, African Americans/Blacks were liberated, and all Americans were finally free. Remarkably, Juneteenth is celebrated around the world, from Mexico to Japan.
Juneteenth also demands our reverence and remembrance. There exists an inextricable link between remembering to honor those who endured the inhumane cruelty of our Nation’s “original sin” and the quest for truth, atonement, reconciliation, and celebrating the hard-fought emancipation from the enslavers’ yoke of oppression. Dr. King advised that we embrace dignity and discipline during this time while rejecting violence, bitterness, and hatred.
Let Freedom Ring!
The demand for freedom continues to ring from then to now, every Juneteenth celebration throughout our Nation and abroad. The demands for jobs, democracy, and racial justice are as alive today—in 2023—as they were in 1852, 1865, and 1963. One example of present-day injustice is local elected officials discussing lynching Black people and killing those who would report those hateful crimes.
As we honor this Juneteenth National Independence Day, we must never forget that we are “the dream and the hope of the slave.” We are that beacon for dignified and disciplined action toward advancing racial equity in all aspects of human life. We are Juneteenth!
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