Juneteenth a Time for Black Celebration; Holiday Commemorates End of Slavery, Beginning of Full Self-Determination

“Juneteenth,” the oldest known celebration marking the end of slavery in America, is observed on June 19. Members of the African-American leadership network Project 21 ask for people everywhere to set aside some time on this day to reflect upon progress already made by black Americans and consider where challenges still remain.

Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with news of the end of the Civil War the previous April and the emancipation of slaves almost two-and-a-half years earlier. For newly-freed African-Americans, the annual celebration was a time of reassurance and rejoicing. Juneteenth activities range from prayer services to picnics, but education and self-improvement have been a constant theme throughout the years.

In 1980, Juneteenth was made an official state holiday in Texas. Other states are considering their own Juneteenth holidays, but it is nonetheless celebrated across America and is featured in the programming of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Although absolute racial equality is still elusive in the United States, celebrations such as Juneteenth highlight how far hard-working black Americans have advanced. It also shows how goals are attainable though continued determination and by taking advantage of presented opportunities.

“The Juneteenth holiday gives black Americans the chance to measure our current condition with past struggles and victories,” said Project 21 member Ak’Bar Shabazz. “Although it’s a day of celebration, we should remember that we pay those slaves a major disservice if we neglect to maximize our opportunities today.”

A reason for celebrating this year is increased black financial prosperity. Information compiled by Project 21 shows the median weekly salary for African-Americans rose by 44 percent between 1985 and 1997. In education, the number of black college graduates has quadrupled since 1960, and high school graduation rates of black students have pulled statistically even with their white counterparts.

One cause for concern is property ownership. Initial Juneteenth celebrations were sometimes discouraged through the denial of permits to celebrate on public land. This lead black communities to pool their resources and purchase property for such events. Today, government policies to prevent “urban sprawl” and the perceived threat of overdevelopment are threatening to deny black Americans of opportunities for affordable and convenient housing at a time when black homeownership is approaching a level equal to whites. (A report on how these “smart growth” planning policies are negatively impacting black homeownership will be released by Project 21 later this year.)

Project 21 has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x106 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html.

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