Recognized as the oldest national commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S., Juneteenth honors Black freedom while inviting reflection on our progress toward equal rights for all.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which was instrumental in freeing slaves in the Confederate States. However, news of this presidential proclamation and executive order traveled slow. It was more than two years later, on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas, to deliver news that the Civil War was over, and the roughly 250,000 enslaved people there were free.
Sheldon Cooke, director of account management at Colonial Life says, “Juneteenth marks the freedom of a very long struggle. Where we have been, how far we have come, and how far we have to go.”
What started out as a grassroots celebration in southern Black communities has gained traction as a celebration of a promise of equality for all Americans. In 2021, President Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, S. 475, recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Khalilah Miller, premier client consultant at Colonial Life says, “Juneteenth reminds me of how blessed we are to have access to historical documentation and a diverse array of credible news sources. Freed people in Texas remained enslaved for two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued because they were reliant upon the word of biased sources.”
“I commemorate Juneteenth by reflecting on the strength and resilience of a people ripped from their homeland and robbed of their very identities, yet still hopeful enough to build a better future for themselves,” said Khalilah. “When I think I’ve done all I can and the challenge is too great, I take a moment to reflect on the little I know of what was endured and of the unimaginable suffering that was overcome and I can’t help but to wipe my brow, take a deep breath, and press on.”
There are many lessons that can be taken away from the history of Juneteenth, ranging from increasing our understanding of historical events to developing a better future using empathy and equality as its foundation.
“I think the lesson of Juneteenth is the acknowledgement that this happened,” said Sheldon. “I think it’s all about perspective, it’s not an effort to change your mind, it’s more of an effort to change your understanding and perspective of the world through the lens of African Americans.”