In 2021, Juneteenth became the United States’ newest federal holiday; however, its origins span over a century. The day memorializes when an already free people learned that they had been liberated two years earlier.
The civil war in the United States began in 1861 when 11 American states seceded from the Union to form a new country, the Confederate States of America. The division of the United States of America into two distinct entities was prompted by regional differences and multiple disputes between the opponents. These differences included divergence in economic practices, cultural values, perspectives on the supremacy of states’ rights over the federal government, and critically, the right to own, and utilize human beings as property through the heinous institution of chattel slavery.
On January 1, 1863, to gain military advantage during the deadly and devastating civil war, then President of the United States Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free”. This statement changed the legal status of more than three and a half million people bound in enslavement in the Confederacy.
However, it was not until June 19, 1865, nearly two years after President Lincoln’s declaration which advanced the cause to end slavery, that soldiers of the U.S. military arrived in Texas and informed more than 250,000 enslaved Africans that they were, in fact, free.
Since that time, Juneteenth – also known as Emancipation Day, Liberty Day, and Jubilee Day – has been celebrated annually by Black Americans across the United States. In 2021, President Joseph R. Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth a U.S. national holiday. Because of its historical significance, and enduring legacy toward the promotion of justice, we invite you to join all Americans worldwide to commemorate this important event.
Juneteenth is a reminder to all, and especially Americans, that the struggle towards achieving equity and inclusion for everyone requires more than a solitary act. Rather, it demands an enduring memory from whence we came, and continuous action towards a democratic future where the interests of all are upheld. This undertaking is not quick, nor without obstacles, but we must persist, as taking the path towards justice is always the right course of action.
U.S. Embassy Gaborone is resolute in its aim to promote greater equality, equity, and inclusion. We invite you to do so as well this Juneteenth and beyond.