Monday, June 19th’s federal holiday commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they had been freed — two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued during the bloody Civil War.
While many have treated the long holiday weekend as a reason for a party, others urged quiet reflection on America's often violent and oppressive treatment of its Black citizens.
And still others have remarked at the strangeness of celebrating a federal holiday marking the end of slavery in the nation while many Americans are trying to stop parts of that history from being taught in public schools.
“Is Juneteenth the only federal holiday that some states have banned the teaching of its history and significance?” Author Michelle Duster asked on Twitter this weekend, referring to measures in Florida, Oklahoma and Alabama prohibiting an Advancement Placement African American studies course or the teaching of certain concepts of race and racism.
On Juneteenth weekend, a Roman Catholic church in Detroit devoted its service to urging parishioners to take a deeper look at the lessons from the holiday.
“In order to have justice we must work for peace. And in order to have peace we must work for justice,” John Thorne, executive director of the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, said to the congregation at Gesu Catholic Church in Detroit.
“The struggle’s still not over with. There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Most Black Americans agree, according to a recent poll. A full 70% of Black adults Queried in an AP-NORC poll said “a lot” needs to be done to achieve equal treatment for African Americans in policing.
Memphis, Tennessee, is home to the National Civil Rights Museum located at the site of the old Lorraine Motel, the former Black-owned hotel where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968.
Ryan Jones, the museum’s associate curator, said Juneteenth should be celebrated in the U.S. with the same emphasis that July 4 receives as Independence Day.
“It is the independence of a people that were forced to endure oppression and discrimination based on the color of their skin,” Jones said.
“It acknowledges the sacrifices of those early civil rights veterans between World War I and World War II, and of course in the modern society, the protests, the demonstrations, the non-violence, the marches,” Jones said.