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Reflections on Juneteenth

Published:Monday | June 21, 2021 | 12:06 AM


Juneteenth, a blend of the words ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth’, honours the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth commemorates the day (June 19, 1865) that Union soldiers finally made it to Galveston, Texas, to tell enslaved people that the war was over and they were now free. It does not commemorate Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official US law on January 1, 1863, but was not fully implemented until the order was read to enslaved people all the way in Texas two and a half years later. Many plantation owners held enslaved people captive long after the proclamation, or intentionally fled westward to avoid approaching Union forces who would inform them of their free status. Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1866, with Texans memorialising the momentous occasion as a day of celebration and community.

We have all seen the upsurge in racial confrontations in the United States. Minority groups, led primarily by African Americans, have formed themselves in various movements in this ongoing fight for equal rights and justice. The call for racial justice has become louder in recent times as advocacy groups have marched for justice on behalf of those black men and women who have been shot and killed by white law-enforcement officers.

The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer. The movement gained traction after the murder of 46-year-old George Floyd in May 2020 by white police officers in Minneapolis.

Professor Vincent Brown, professor of American history and African and African American studies at Harvard University, stated that African warfare was reconstituted as an outgrowth of emigrant experiences. He identified this as collective violence, which equates to black lives being devalued. Professor Brown posits that the US is an example where black lives are devalued. He added that the police are disproportionately violent against black and brown people in these societies.

President Joe Biden signed the legislation on June 17, 2021, making Juneteenth, a federal holiday. Juneteenth provides the African American community a time to reflect and celebrate.

In the words of Barack Obama, 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.