June 20, 2007

Juneteenth Day

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

When most people think of “Independence Day,” they immediately think of the 4th of July.  Yet not everyone in America was free on that historic day. There is a very different independence day celebrated in the African American communities across the country.  Juneteenth Day commemorates June 19, 1865, when all slaves in the United States were finally set free.

When President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 to end slavery, the country did not change over night.  Most slaves lived in territories controlled by confederate forces that did not recognize slaves’ freedom.  It was not until June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and issued the emancipation order that the last of the slaves were set free.

June 19th has come to symbolize the struggle for freedom and equality in the United States.  In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a legal holiday.  13 other states have followed, and now Wisconsin is considering doing the same.  Senator Coggs and I have introduced a bill that would make June 19th a legal holiday, giving it the status it truly deserves.

Unfortunately, too few people understand the importance of Juneteenth Day.  It represents the hope of freedom and equality for all people.  The struggles of our ancestors have inspired us all work and fight for a greater future for our children.  It is that passion that must be celebrated and passed on to future generations. 

Indeed, Juneteenth is much more about the future than the past.  It is a day that we gather together to continue the struggle.  We all realize that true freedom still eludes many of us.  Those who suffer through poverty, injustice, and racial hatred still carry the chains of our ancestors.

So on this Juneteenth Day, I call on each of you to remember our shared history and to dedicate yourself to a brighter future.  Together we can make end the injustices around us and create a world where all our brothers and sisters are truly free.