Release Date: 
Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Why Juneteenth matters

Juneteenth Celebrate Freedom flag

This message is part of a series that aims to raise our community’s awareness of major holidays, including cultural, historic, and religious observances throughout the year.

June 19, or Juneteenth, is the oldest-known celebration commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Brief history of Juneteenth

Juneteenth originated on June 19, 1865, when Union Army General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas, where he proclaimed General Order #3, stating that all slaves were free, and that former masters and slaves were equal in personal and property rights.

From this date, June 19 became a day of celebration to honor African-Americans and the end of slavery in the United States.

But the story is more complex than that. Nearly three years earlier, on Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that enslaved people in states or areas of rebellion against the United States would be free, effective January 1, 1863. The proclamation was not enforceable across the nation until the end of the Civil War in April 1865. It took several more months for the proclamation to become enforceable across the nation. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which formally abolished slavery nationwide and granted full rights of citizenship to Black Americans, was passed in December 1865.

Unfortunately, the end of slavery was not the end of discrimination and racist violence. Factors such as Black Codes, white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, voter suppression, “separate-but-equal” (Jim Crow) segregation statutes, and selective enforcement of laws continued to subject black Americans to involuntary labor and many other forms of individual and state-sponsored discrimination for more than a century following the Civil War. The violent practice of murder by lynching remained a national scourge until the Civil Rights movement and Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s brought it to an end. A handful of lynching incidents have occurred in recent decades.

Today, our nation continues to struggle with racism and the legacy of slavery. I encourage everyone to become more informed about our national history and to embrace our Welcoming College’s values of Passion, Integrity, Ingenuity and Respect for all. I encourage you to consider the commemoration recommendations below.

How to commemorate Juneteenth

Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a proclamation today, recognizing Juneteenth in Michigan. “Juneteenth is an important day throughout our nation and Michigan is proud to take part in recognizing the bravery of those who fought for their freedom,” she said. “Michigan’s strength comes from our great diversity, and we must continue to work together to make sure everyone can get ahead here. I’m proud to declare June 19, 2019 as Juneteenth Celebration Day, and I’m ready to work with everyone to make sure all Michiganders can thrive.”

Juneteenth is considered the “Independence Day” for African-Americans in our culture. There are many ways to recognize this holiday and the history that led to it. I encourage you to visit and support the Museum of African American History (Charles H. Wright Museum). Tonight, June 19th, the Museum will host a Jamboree Jazz Concert. Some communities celebrate the holiday with parades, rodeos, races, Miss Juneteenth contests, and cookouts.

The most important way to honor this date is to stand together, individually and as a community, against all forms of discrimination, intolerance, and hatred, and to show respect and honor to everyone, perhaps especially those who are different from you.

Our Henry Ford College mission states, in part: “We empower learners through the development of independent, critical and creative thinking, and we foster diversity, inclusion, understanding, and acceptance to prepare learners to succeed in a global society.” I urge you to do all you can to adopt and spread our College values and mission, whether you are on or off campus.

Henry Ford College embraces the richness and wealth of experiences that are part of our community because of the many kinds of diversity that all of us represent. Everyone you meet has knowledge and experiences that can increase your depth of understanding. I encourage you to share conversations about your cultural and family experiences, so our community can become a model of openness, safety, and welcome to all.

Russ Kavalhuna