By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics
Juneteenth – also known as Black Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, and Jubilee Day – is an annual celebration and commemoration of the end of slavery in America. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, slaves across the South did not receive the news until nearly a year and a half later.
On June 18, 1865, the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced that the slaves in Texas were free by order of the President of the United States. The first Juneteenth celebration took place the very next year, and the celebrations of this event have continued since then.
Juneteenth Became a Federal Holiday in 2021
Traditionally celebrated on June 19, Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. In 2021, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, officially establishing June 19 as a federal holiday.
Dr. Opal Lee: A Driving Force Behind Making Juneteenth a National Holiday
One of the people who spearheaded the movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday was Dr. Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” She was present on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.
Dr. Lee has campaigned over the years to get this event national recognition. In 2016, she walked 1,400 miles from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, DC. In 2019, Dr. Lee launched an online petition that garnered over 1.6 million signatures to support the idea of making Juneteenth a national holiday.
In select cities around the U.S., Dr. Lee has also walked two and a half miles. This walk represents the two and a half years it took for word of their freedom to reach Texas slaves.
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Facts about Juneteenth
Here are a few facts about Juneteenth that you may not know:
- This event is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
- Thanks to Texas state representative Al Edwards, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday on January 1, 1980. Several states followed his example.
- During our recent Grad Fest held during Commencement weekend, the University provided information on the history of this event, why it’s important to recognize it, and a list of Black-owned businesses in the National Harbor and DC area for shoppers.
Today, take some time to celebrate Juneteenth at events held around the country or have your own celebration at home. Remember this time and be thankful of the many freedoms our country offers.