The Meaning of Juneteenth

We must remain committed to the fight for racial justice and true freedom for all.

By Ginger Cassady

There’s a lot of history in the U.S. that has gone untaught in schools. This country’s land was stolen from Indigenous communities and its wealth was built by enslaved Black people stolen from their families and communities. Americans like to think that we are the beacon of freedom in the world, but our true history tells a different story. Our constitution didn’t recognize Black people as full human beings with the same rights as other citizens until 1868. So what does freedom really mean in this country?

The emancipation proclamation ended slavery on January 1, 1863, but the enslaved people of Texas weren’t freed until June 19, 1865 — 2 months after the Civil War ended. Juneteenth is celebrated as a reminder that “No one is free until we are all free.” 

Juneteenth has just been recognized as a Federal Holiday — but to be clear, most Black organizers and Black-led organizations aren’t asking for a holiday: they’re asking for reparations, defunding the police, funding Black communities and community services, and ending mass incarceration. In essence, they are calling for an end to the systemic racism and injustice that remains embedded in this nation. 

The Black Lives Matter movement was born from the undeniable history of police brutality and murders of Black people across the country — from George Floyd to Breonna Taylor to Tamir Rice to Sandra Bland to Duante Wright, and so many others whose names we may never know. A Black person is five times more likely to be stopped without just cause than a white person. Mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline impact Black people at a rate 5 times higher than white people, making up 32% of incarcerated people when Black people make up only 14% of the U.S. population. And the U.S. incarcerates more people than any nation on Earth — many experts call mass incarceration a new form of slavery. 

Right now, we’re witnessing open assaults on voting rights aimed disproportionately at Black, Brown and Indigenous communities; hundreds of state laws aimed at criminalizing the right to protest and curtailing freedom of speech have been introduced across the country, and an insidious movement to ban the teaching of the true history of slavery and racism in this country is growing. We just marked 100 years since an angry white mob massacred the residents of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and burned the entire town to the ground. But 100 years later, the survivors and their families have not received reparations for the money and lives stolen from them. Most Americans have never been taught their story — and won’t be if racist laws in several states are upheld.

So as we commemorate Juneteenth this Saturday, please remember that until structural racism, white supremacy, and colonialism are ended, until this nation reckons with both its past and its present, and until reparations have been made to Black and Indigenous communities, we must remain committed to the fight for racial justice and true freedom for all.

To read more about the history and meaning of Juneteenth, please check out some of these resources:

History of Juneteenth:

What is Juneteenth, How is it Celebrated, and Why Does it Matter?