President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and intended to free all slaves. The proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control. In Texas, slavery had continued as the state experienced no large-scale fighting or significant presence of Union troops. In fact, many slave owners from outside of Texas viewed it as a safe haven and moved there with their slaves. In Texas, approximately 250,000 people were still being held in slavery when, on June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston to announce that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free.
But more than 150 years after the final slaves were freed, too many still don't know why celebrating June 19 is important. Juneteenth has added significance this year, amid global unrest and protests against systemic racism. In many ways, Juneteenth represents how justice in the US has always been delayed for African-Americans. In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, there were waves of lynchings, imprisonment, and the implementation of Jim Crow laws. What followed was the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration, discriminatory housing policies, and a lack of economic investment. Juneteenth should serve as a reminder of the need for us to commit to structural changes that the country has not yet addressed.
Today, it's important for all of us to acknowledge Juneteenth in our own way, whether that be posting something on your social media page, having a discussion with our kids, or having a physically distanced celebration with neighbors. Show your community that the historical experiences of African-Americans and the struggles that they have had to endure is one worth acknowledging. Use this as an opportunity to educate yourself and others about a reality that may be far removed from many of us, the reality of systemic racism and pervasive injustice in our country. Let’s use today as a critical moment of observation and reflection about the impact of our nation’s past, how it impacts the present lived experience of African-Americans, and what we have to do to create a better future.