As we approach the annual Juneteenth holiday, I welcome the opportunity to share my thoughts on this pivotal historical and cultural event in our nation’s history – one that profoundly impacted countless lives and subsequent generations of families. Juneteenth, honoring June 19, 1865, became a federal holiday in 2021, officially acknowledging the day when all enslaved African Americans were finally declared emancipated.
As a Black woman, when I contemplate Juneteenth, the two words that come to mind are reflection and celebration. Why reflection before the celebration? Because it is essential to remember our origins in order to fully appreciate where we stand today.
On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, declaring freedom for slaves in the United States. The eve before, enslaved African Americans congregated in churches and homes, eagerly awaiting the moment of their liberation (now recognized as the first “Watch Night Service”). While many slaves were fortunate enough to jubilantly celebrate the long-awaited news of their freedom, not everyone would experience immediate liberation.
States still under Confederate control refused to implement the emancipation order, and news of freedom did not reach enslaved people in Texas until 1865. It was only when nearly 2,000 Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to proclaim the emancipation that more than 250,000 Black slaves were finally informed of their freedom through executive decree.
Juneteenth not only commemorates the emancipation of the enslaved but also signifies the day when the news of freedom finally reached the last group of slaves in Texas – more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. The thought of how my ancestors must have felt upon hearing the news of their liberation sends shivers down my spine. I can imagine there was an outpouring of celebration, adulation, songs, and dance!
I remember when I first learned about Watch Night Service. I was 7 years old and heading to church with my grandmother on New Year’s Eve. I asked her why we were going to church the night before the new year – I of course recognized that we went to church on Sunday mornings, but the evening before the new year was new to me. “Was it to give thanks for the new year?” I asked. Grandma glanced over and smiled at me, as she loved when I was inquisitive and asked questions. She explained how that was part of the reason, but not the main one. She then went on to tell me about President Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, and how slaves got together that first evening of 1863 to hear the news of their freedom.
While the magnitude of what she said didn’t immediately hit 7-year-old me, by my teenage years I understood the gravity of the occasion. Now when I read or hear about slavery and segregation, these events are not some far-off historical tidbit. My parents and grandparents lived through segregation, and my great-grandmother who lived to be 100 recounted stories about slavery, what our family endured, and how freedom is in fact not free for all.
Juneteenth, also referred to as the nation’s second Independence Day, has long been celebrated within the African-American community. Since 1866, Black families have come together to host picnics, hold parades, and prepare delicious culinary delights, all in remembrance of this extraordinary day.
As a child, I attended many Juneteenth festivities. Families near and far would gather like one big family reunion. I had to memorize speeches and participate in plays that provided me a deeper understanding of the impact. Juneteenth events provided Black families like mine a space to hear our music and showcase our culture’s food, as well as enjoy historical discussions and speeches.
Now recognized as a federal holiday, Juneteenth presents an opportunity to educate a large portion of Americans who are unfamiliar with its historical significance. This holiday has the potential to foster a deeper understanding of the ideals of diversity, equity, and freedom among future generations. There is also an opportunity to educate about the history and struggles faced by African Americans in our ongoing pursuit of freedom. The recognition also sends a powerful message about the contributions of African Americans throughout our nation’s history.
While I am overjoyed that this momentous milestone is finally acknowledged nationwide, I cannot help but wonder why it took our nation so long to do so. Nonetheless, I am grateful that we now have the chance to reflect upon, honor, and celebrate the profound importance of Juneteenth in our nation’s history. Cities and communities across the country are joining together to organize Juneteenth events, uniting in remembrance of our past as we look toward the future.
I would like to express my gratitude to Sachs Media for its recognition of Juneteenth and its significance. I applaud the firm’s commitment to fostering an inclusive work culture that respects and supports all individuals, all while standing in solidarity with not only its African American team members but the entire African American community on this day when we celebrate the idea that we are all free.