Voices for Action

What Is Juneteenth?

What Is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.

Now, Juneteenth commemorates Black freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas, a month of celebrations. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing and it is also a time for assessment, self-improvement and planning for the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of support in America that is long overdue. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions celebrate together to truthfully acknowledge a period in history that shaped and continues to influence our society today.

The Importance of Juneteenth This Year

Juneteenth celebrations provide the chance for reflection and growth following a difficult year. After the killing of George Floyd, thousands of people around the United States poured onto the streets in protest. His name, as well as the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee and others, became a rallying cry for change across the country.

This change has come in waves. Officials in Minneapolis banned police use of chokeholds and strangleholds, Democrats unveiled legislation targeting misconduct and racial discrimination by the police, the Black Lives Matter movement grew and companies began rethinking their stance on diversity equity inclusion, and in April, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of two counts of murder in the death of Mr. Floyd. As good as these changes are, they took months of protest and hard work for the bare minimum. There are still many voices left unheard and many systemic injustices that Congress refuses to tackle.

This year’s celebration is an opportunity for people to catch their breath and reflect on what has transpired. It is a time to take these tragedies and these changes and create space for healing and joy.

This Juneteenth is also different because it is now a federal holiday. While this is a long overdue win it also highlights the performative nature of Congress even more. Juneteenth should be a federal holiday with a full commitment to Black liberation including voting rights, police accountability, clean air and water, and economic equality.

Juneteenth Events This Year

While some of the celebrations take place in backyards and neighborhood communities where food is an integral element, many cities hold larger events which provide an opportunity to celebrate but also to learn about Black history and culture. You can have your own party or check out the lists below to see what is going on in your area:

EDF and the environmental community are also hosting and supporting events across the next few weeks. Moms Clean Air Force is hosting a virtual event, Juneteenth: Acknowledging Our History & Recasting Our Future, on Juneteenth at 5:30pm where a panel will highlight the injustices that Black Americans endure and how individuals are working to move towards true environmental justice for all. EDF Action is also supporting Black Voters Matter as they launch Freedom Rides for Voting Rights which is a voter outreach campaign and bus tour to engage Black voters and build Black voting power from Georgia to DC.

Resources to Read