June 19th, also known as “Juneteenth,” is an important date in African American history. Juneteenth, also known as “Freedom Day,” is the United States’ oldest nationally observed commemoration of the abolition of slavery.
The United States Senate unanimously approved the bill making Juneteenth a legal public holiday on June 15th, 2021. The following Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill into law that officially designated Juneteenth as an American holiday.
Opal Lee was 12 years old when her family’s home in Fort Worth, Texas, was burned down by a mob in 1939. Like so many other African Americans before and since Opal was not broken by the experience. Lee earned a college degree, became a schoolteacher, social worker, food bank coordinator, and much-loved pillar of the Fort Worth community who, at the age of 93, still delivers meals to disabled and elderly residents. And Lee made history by campaigning to have June 19th declared a national holiday known as “Juneteenth.”
Since 2016, Lee has walked 2.5 miles in Fort Worth on June 19th to raise awareness about the African-American tradition and in 20 other cities across the country. Juneteenth commemorates the date Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas, and read General Order Number Three, which informed the public about President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. President Lincoln signed the document on January 1st, 1863, but it took another two and a half years for news of freedom to reach the nearly quarter-million enslaved people in Texas.
As America undergoes a national reckoning on race, an increasing number of people emphasize the history of Juneteenth and its relevance to contemporary issues such as police brutality and economic inequality. People use “Freedom Day” to focus on African-American history and victory over struggle and barriers on social media, schools, and local government.
In agony on the street, a video shows George Floyd, a black man, his head crushed against the pavement. A white officer’s knee presses Floyd’s neck. Floyd, 46, repeatedly says, “I can’t breathe.” “Please. Please. Please. I’m having trouble breathing. Please, sir.” Bystanders filming the incident beg the officer to stop. He isn’t. He kneels on Floyd for eight and 48 seconds as three other officers stand by, his life seeping from his body.
This is just one event that has emphasized the importance of Juneteenth in 2022.
Juneteenth honors and commemorates Black culture while reaffirming Black history as American history. This holiday provides an opportunity for education, advocacy, and healing and provides a platform for all Americans to come together and celebrate their common bond of freedom. While July 4th marked the beginning of freedom for some, June 19th marked the start of freedom for all.
Juneteenth is a necessary moment of observation because the government, and to a certain degree, the nation has not acknowledged the trauma of 4 million enslaved people and their descendants. Juneteenth provides that space for acknowledgment of the institution’s impact on this country and continues to have.