September 26, 2023

Our Day, Our Freedom: Juneteenth

Juneteenth, also known as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day,” is a very important day for Black people, and even though it should have been recognized sooner, this day became a federal holiday in 2021 by President Biden.  Jamelle Bouie said, “Juneteenth may mark just one moment in the struggle for emancipation, but the holiday gives us an occasion to reflect on the profound contributions of enslaved Black Americans to the cause of human freedom.”

Juneteenth dates back to Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived and announced the freedom of slaves. Technically they were already free, but they didn’t know it. Two and a half years prior, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. Slaveholders knew that the slaves were free, but they ignored the proclamation and continued to hold them hostage. This is also one example of why slave owners didn’t want slaves to learn how to read and write. If they didn’t know anything, they couldn’t question anything or do anything that would lead them towards a path to freedom.

There are a few individuals that have contributed to Juneteenth being recognized. One person was State Representative, Hon. Albert Ely Edwards, also known as “The Father of Juneteenth,” who was born in Houston, Texas. Edwards began his political career at the age of 41 and was elected to the Texas State Legislature from Houston’s House District 146. His first task was establishing a law that recognized the emancipation of slavery. In 1979, legislation passed the Texas State Legislature, and it was signed into law.

Another individual who contributed to the success of Juneteenth was Opal Lee, also known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” who played an instrumental part in getting Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday. Her efforts did not succeed in getting Juneteenth as a holiday during the Obama or Trump administration, but after the George Floyd incident and more individuals becoming more aware about Black history and the inequities that Blacks face, the idea of the holiday was more accepted. One month after Floyd’s death, Lee obtained a million signatures for her petition to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. The following year, her hard work paid off as President Biden signed the law-making Juneteenth an official federal holiday.

Juneteenth is not only a celebration of freedom, but a tribute and memorial to our ancestors who dreamt of this day to come. Juneteenth is also a reminder of how we can’t forget where we come from and the importance of keeping our history alive. This holiday marked the beginning of a new era for our slaves, and it is a day that shall never be forgotten.

We must keep up the work that Edwards and Lee have done with the same passion, motivation, and determination. Mariah Cooley said, “June 19th reminds me that I am the force of power to change this world and to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors to work towards liberation.” Let’s make our ancestors proud and continue the fight they fought for so long.

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