Juneteenth is a day that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that all enslaved African Americans were free. The name Juneteenth is a blend of the words June and nineteenth.
“Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible—and there is still so much work to do.” – Barack Obama
Juneteenth has been observed by African Americans for over a century, but it was not widely recognized by the rest of the country until recently. The Black Lives Matter movement and the racial reckoning that followed the killing of George Floyd in 2020 brought more attention to the significance of Juneteenth and its relevance to the ongoing struggle for racial justice and equality.
“Juneteenth is not only a day to celebrate freedom from bondage; it is also a reminder that freedom is not free. It requires vigilance, perseverance and sacrifice. It requires us to confront the ugly truths of our past and the present, and to work together to create a more just and equitable future.” – Kamala Harris
In 2021, Juneteenth became the newest federal holiday in the United States, after President Joe Biden signed a bill into law on June 17. It is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983. The law took effect immediately, meaning that federal employees got a paid day off on June 18, since June 19 fell on a Saturday that year.
However, not everyone got to enjoy a long weekend for Juneteenth. Federal holidays are not mandatory for businesses or state and local governments, so some employers and agencies remained open or had to scramble to adjust their schedules with short notice. Some critics also argued that making Juneteenth a federal holiday was a symbolic gesture that did little to address the systemic racism and oppression that Black Americans still face.
“We need more than just symbolic gestures. We need real action. We need Congress to pass voting rights legislation. We need police reform. We need reparations. We need economic justice. We need educational equity. We need health care access. We need environmental justice. We need justice for all.” – Opal Lee
Juneteenth is more than just a day off work or a marketing opportunity. It is a day to honor the resilience and contributions of Black Americans, to reflect on the history and legacy of slavery, and to recommit to the fight for freedom and justice for all. Juneteenth is a day to celebrate how far we have come, but also to recognize how far we still have to go.