Juneteenth: American celebration of freedom

  • Published
  • By Julie Svoboda
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring, “all persons held as slaves” within rebellious states “are, and henceforth shall be free.” However, it took two and half years for the word to reach Texas, the last bastion of Confederate power. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas when more than 250,000 enslaved people were finally free.

Juneteenth, a combination of the words June and nineteenth became a federal holiday June 17, 2021. Before that, it was a uniquely Texan observance for many years, which is why Connie Ali, 82nd Training Wing Equal Opportunity director, did not learn about it herself until adulthood. A North Carolina native, Ali said she was never taught about the significance of the day. Now, she is on a mission to make sure people understand the importance of the holiday.

“I think people on the installation should have an awareness what Juneteenth means to people outside the gates,” she said. “If they see a parade or different events going on and they're not from Texas, they may not have an understanding. But if we educate and give them an awareness, they know why they are celebrating this. I just feel as if we, the people on the installation and the leaders, can articulate it ourselves, it will give a better awareness to the younger people.”

Although Juneteenth is the oldest recognized African American-celebrated observance, it’s still new to many Americans. For Ali, the shared experience of becoming more aware of the meaning behind the holiday is a chance to talk about where we’ve been as Americans, where we are, and where we’re going.

“Learning about Juneteenth should bring up conversations to say that ‘hey, this is a significant event that happened in our history and let's talk about it.’ I just think that some people fear of talking about it because of the term slave. And that can cause a divisive conversation. But I would find it's a great opportunity to say, look at how far we have come. Let's just talk and truly have conversations about it. Because it is an important, important event in American history.”

This Juneteenth, Ali hopes people will stop and reflect about why it’s celebrated as they enjoy the holiday itself.

“Let us observe Juneteenth just as we observe Independence Day – as a significant turning point for freedom in our nation’s history, and one where we were willing to pay a heavy price to ultimately live out our highest principles,” she said. “As we commemorate Juneteenth, let us embrace the opportunity to learn and empathize by recognizing the importance of this historical event.”