On Juneteenth

Despite being the most prominent holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States, Juneteenth (June 19) does not commemorate the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order freeing Confederate slaves, nor does it mark the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime.

The holiday celebrates a relatively obscure historical moment, when, on June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger brought news of the Union’s victory in the Civil War to slaves in Galveston, Texas, a region so deep in the Confederacy that it was possible to hold people in bondage almost two years after emancipation became the law of the land.

The story of Juneteenth reveals a tragic aspect of abolition in the United States: Even after being freed by government decree, Black Americans’ access to liberty and justice has consistently been delayed, deferred and withheld. More than 150 years after emancipation, African Americans and other people of color in the U.S. are still suffocating from systems of structural racism and oppression that arose in our nation after the end of slavery.

But Juneteenth also expresses a sense of hope and solidarity. As we acknowledge the moment that freedom was finally delivered to some of the very last enslaved Americans, we are reminded that a society is only as free as its most oppressed members; that justice can be measured by how a nation treats its poorest residents; and that true liberty demands liberty for all.

The SUNY New Paltz community acknowledges the tragedy of Juneteenth – the long and ongoing inequities that millions of Black Americans have endured and continue to endure – as well as the hope. We believe that inclusive access to education is a vital component of emancipation, and we commit to working as a community to condemn systems of structural racism in all their forms.

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