On the gut-wrenching evening of December 31, 1862, thousands of African-American men, women, and children waited patiently for the official word they had all hoped for, freedom. That next day, on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect and slavery was officially abolished. But the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, didn’t get that word until June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln’s decree that all Americans were free. Moreover, by the time the news got to the people in Galveston, President Lincoln had been assassinated and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was well on its way to ratification.
Now, every June 19, communities across the country commemorate the anniversary of that great and sobering day when all enslaved people were finally notified that they were free. That glorious day marked the beginning of an uphill battle for equality and justice for African-Americans. The African-American journey to liberty and justice has been hard, with very slow progress. Enslaved people knew that legal freedom was only the first step.
On Juneteenth, we remember the struggle of our past and reflect on the resiliency and sacrifice of so many leaders in the fight for true freedom. This is a time to come together and celebrate with cookouts, parades, concerts, festivals, and heartfelt gatherings. But it is also a time to recommit ourselves to the work that still needs to be done in the fight for equality and justice. We are only able to now celebrate Juneteenth as a Federal Holiday because of the hard work of freedom fighters before us. Their resolve gives me all the hope I need for a better tomorrow. Black lives are still not valued in systems across this nation including the child welfare system. No matter your race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, we can all recommit to building an equitable tomorrow. Let’s start by putting children first and teaching them how to stand up for those who are still fighting for their freedom.
Take a look at 17 Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth with Kids.
Written by: Benjamin Carlton, Interim Chief Equity Officer