Juneteenth: Commemorating Freedom and Continuing the Fight for Justice

By Urban League of Westchester Published June 19, 2024

Juneteenth holds profound importance for our nation, representing both a pivotal historical moment and an ongoing journey toward justice and equality. This day, June 19th, 1865, marked the arrival of Major General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, where he proclaimed the end of slavery, finally reaching the last enslaved African Americans in the Confederate states. However, understanding Juneteenth goes beyond recognizing the end of legal slavery; it symbolizes the enduring quest for freedom and equality that continues to shape our society today.

As a Civil Rights Nonprofit, the Urban League of Westchester views Juneteenth not just as a commemoration but as a powerful reminder of the resilience and hope that define the Black American experience. Renowned activist Angela Davis once said, “Freedom is a constant struggle. It requires persistent efforts and collective action to realize the liberation our ancestors envisioned.” Juneteenth embodies this struggle, serving as a reminder of both the progress made and the work that remains.

Juneteenth is a celebration of possibilities and a call to action. It reminds us of the promise of freedom that was so cruelly delayed and the continuous fight against systemic barriers that hinder true equality. While the 13th Amendment, ratified in December 1865, formally abolished slavery, the dream of full citizenship and opportunity for Black Americans faced relentless opposition, from the era of Jim Crow to the modern-day challenges against racial justice.

Today, we find ourselves amidst significant backlash against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Since 2023, over 85 anti-DEI bills have been introduced across 28 states, with 14 becoming law. The "Dismantle DEI Act," proposed by Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, threatens to dismantle DEI programs and cut federal funding for related initiatives. Teachers are increasingly afraid to teach American history accurately or acknowledge systemic racism, and well-funded anti-racial justice activists are inundating courts with lawsuits to maintain barriers against marginalized communities.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." This perspective underscores the essence of Juneteenth. It is a reminder of the resilience required to overcome obstacles and the perseverance needed to drive systemic change. In 2021, President Joe Biden acknowledged “the unbearable human costs of systemic racism” and pledged “a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”

Juneteenth is a day to honor our progress as a nation and the ongoing efforts to achieve civil and human rights for all. It is a celebration of our resilience and a recommitment to the fight for equality. While we celebrate, we also recognize the continuous struggle and the work that remains.

The Urban League of Westchester reaffirms our commitment to staying vigilant and empowering one another to secure a future where equality and justice prevail. Juneteenth is both a celebration and a call to action, reminding us of what has been achieved and what still must be done to ensure a more just and equitable society for all.