Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of the final enslaved people

By Taylor Howard

June 19 marks 155 years since Union Army General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and liberated the last enslaved people left in the US in 1865. Though the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery two and a half prior, enslaved people in Texas were still illegaly in bondage.

While Juneteenth commemorates African-American freedom, this is not a familiar historical event to many people. 

Fourth grade teacher Kasandra Diggs, said she first heard about the holiday a few years ago and much of  African American history, such as Juneteenth, is isn’t retold completely. 

“I think the education system, they just tend to focus on how different eras affect black people and the speeches and marches,” she said. “Juneteenth is important because if it was not for moments in history, we would not be where we are today.”

Recently, the nation has been grappling with the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of Louisville and Minneapolis police officers. Since Floyd’s death on Memorial Day, people have been protesting in cities across the country, calling for police reform. Emily Jones, Junior in LAS at the University of Illinois, said the protests are the culmination of years of racial tension. 

“The amount of people that celebrated was so beautiful, especially with everything going on in the world,” Jones said. “We definitely needed that break to be black, be proud and be happy, be free because we earned it.”

Following George Floyd’s death, thousands of people across the country have protested and rallied and the awareness of the Black Lives Matter Movement reignited.

In days following, the police officers have been fired for misconduct, companies and businesses, such as Nike, Apple and Target have shown support for BLM and laws have been passed in attempts to lessen police brutality. 

“We have our own experiences with the black people and peers in our lives with the racism we have to face,” Jones said. “But to see it on the larger scale is… I’m not the only one going through this.”

In wake of the movement, young organizers have been leading the movement through social media and organizing impromptu marches. Despite changes, activist Alyson Godbolt said that it is important to remember having difficult conversations and the willingness to “unlearn and relearn” is a start. 

“This is what liberation looks like. Nobody said it would be easy and joyous all the time,” Godbolt said. “ I believe this is a revolutionary movement that will change the systems of the world.” 

She acknowledged that keeping up maintaining momentum throughout the coming months with these protests will be hard, but worth it.

Fourth-grade teacher Diggs said young people are changing the way they stand up for what they believe in.

“Our young people are making a loud noise that is now being heard,” Diggs said. “They are educating this new generation.” 

Diggs also said that she believes seeing change in the U.S. begins with incorporating black history in all subjects and to have more representation in the education system.

“It’s so unfortunate that our heritage and history is taught in a sum of 28 days or in one short chapter,” she said. “But, there are always opportunities to incorporate black history with the given curriculum.”

Senators recently proposed Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday, but the greater goal still remains: to learn and celebrate African-American history. 

Photo by Wynn Pointaux