By Laurie Paolicelli
On June 19, 1865, enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free, released from a lifetime of bondage. A century and a half later, people in cities and towns across the U.S. continue to celebrate the occasion. Juneteenth, an annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s.
But history, as always, is more complicated than that.
Although President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in the Confederacy in 1863, many southerners sought to evade the executive order by moving enslaved people to Texas, the most Western of the slaveholding states. However, Union troops pursued them, arriving in Galveston in the summer of 1865, finally freeing more than 250,000 Black Americans. Enslaved people were then formally emancipated, and slavery officially abolished by the 13th Amendment in December 1865.
Juneteenth, also known as “Jubilee Day,” is sometimes referred to as America’s true Independence Day, since July 4, 1776 symbolizes liberty and justice for only some Americans, not all. This sentiment is deftly captured in Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” in which he wrote, “This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
Of course, the fight for equity and justice for Black Americans continues to this day. And that’s why it’s so important that organizations have begun to recognize June 19 as another pivotal date in U.S. history.
In June of 2021, Congress passed legislation to establish Juneteenth National Independence Day as a U.S. federal holiday, and every state but South Dakota recognizes it as a state or ceremonial holiday.
Juneteenth is not only a celebration of freedom, but also one of opportunity, equity, and access.
According to Coqual (formerly the Center for Talent Innovation), Black professionals occupy just 3.2% of senior leadership roles at large U.S. companies and just 0.8% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions.
While acknowledging Juneteenth as a paid company holiday is certainly a step in the right direction, it’s not enough. Much like Martin Luther King’s Day of Service, Juneteenth should be honored as a “day on, not a day off.”
All those cliches about America are true: it is a patchwork, a melting pot, a kaleidoscope. When we advocate for change for one group or point of view, it affects us all, creating a more inclusive environment for everybody. At the same time, we should recognize what we’ve always known in our hearts: people have multiple identities, ones that are not necessarily based on race or gender but also sexual orientation — even backgrounds and interests, such as being a veteran, an immigrant, an artist, or, yes, a fitness enthusiast. June is also Pride Month in the U.S., a celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The work of racial equity and inclusion never ends. But the more we recognize and truly celebrate holidays like Juneteenth as unifying opportunities the further we can travel on this necessary journey. Step by step.
Juneteenth Events in Chapel Hill & Carrboro:
Juneteenth Events in Hillsborough:
Special Court Session on June 17, 2022 to Address Orange County Convictions of 1947 Freedom Riders
The community is invited to a special session of Orange County Superior Court scheduled for June 17, 2022 at 2:00 pm in the Historic Courthouse in Hillsborough, North Carolina at 106 E. King Street. Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood will open the court session and Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour will preside. The sole matter before the Court will be a Motion for Appropriate Relief seeking to posthumously vacate the 1947 convictions of four original Freedom Riders in the Civil Rights movement.
Juneteenth 2022: Sacrifices & Celebration
In observance of Juneteenth 2022, the Northern Orange NAACP, Spirit Freedom, Orange County Historical Museum and Hillsborough Presbyterian Church will host an afternoon program, Sacrifices and Celebration. The event will be an opportunity to view and explain Say Their Names, an artistic rendering of the legacy of struggle for humanity and justice by people of African descent over the past four centuries. In addition, the program will recognize and celebrate Mrs. Dorothy “Dot” Shanklin and Rev. Dr. William Richardson, Sr. for their sacrifices and achievements in changing the social, economic and political landscape of Hillsborough and Orange County.
This event will be Saturday, June 18, 2022, from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm at the Hillsborough Presbyterian Church,102 W. Tryon Street, Hillsborough. It is free and open to the public, though registration is requested. Parking is available in nearby downtown parking lots and on the street. The Church fellowship hall, the venue, is wheelchair accessible.
Local Black Businesses and Leadership:
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.
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