Juneteenth honors the day that enslaved Black people in Texas learned that they were free: June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation became effective. While Juneteenth has been celebrated for over 150 years, it was only recently made a federal holiday. In 2016, Opal Lee, at the age of 89, walked 1,400 miles from her home in Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C. to advocate for making Juneteenth a national holiday. In 2021, after years of activism, and in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders, President Biden made Juneteenth the 11th holiday recognized by the federal government. Today, we reflect on the courage and strength of activists like Ms. Lee and on the painful racial injustices our nation has faced.
Juneteenth is a time of celebration as well as a reminder of the oppression faced by Black people since the start of our nation. There is still so much more to be done to advocate for equality while also centering Black voices in this movement. While Juneteenth is an important day, we must also continue to do the work year-round to see real change. We honor the Juneteenth holiday by renewing our commitment to combat white supremacy and work toward an anti-racist society.
“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