June 19, or Juneteenth, is independence day for many Americans of African descent.
Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, it commemorates the end of slavery, the seminal event in black history.
President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, but the word did not spread instantly. According to one account, the Emancipation Proclamation was read to slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, more than two years after it officially went into force. As word of the end of slavery spread, Juneteenth was created to commemorate that day.
There are several different accounts of why the news of freedom took so long to arrive.
One story has it that slaves were intentionally kept ignorant about their freedom in order to allow crops to continue being harvested. Another has a messenger traveling by mule to deliver the news, and it simply took more than two years to arrive from Washington, D.C., to Texas. Yet another story has the messenger being murdered before he could deliver the message.
No matter the origin of Juneteenth, the end of slavery is definitely worth celebrating. But while much has happened in the nearly 150 years since slavery officially ended, its legacies still remain in the form of disparate salaries, educational levels and incarceration rates.
Juneteenth, which is now observed in 36 states and the District of Columbia, is a time to take stock of our progress — and of the work that remains.
Last year, for Juneteenth, President Obama said: “African-Americans helped to build our nation brick by brick and have contributed to her growth in every way, even when rights and liberties were denied to them.”
We’re still building it.
Akilah Bolden-Monifa is a freelance writer based in Oakland, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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