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Juneteenth: History and Significance

Paul Laurence Dunbar Library | Photo by Qusai Takuri | The Wright State Guardian

As the United States prepares to celebrate Juneteenth, Wright State University community members reflect on the holiday, its history and its personal meaning. 

Historical Significance

On June 19, 1865 in Galveston TX, two years after President Abraham Lincon established his Emancipation Proclamation, African American slaves were notified that the system of forced labor was now illegal in the US. 

As former slaves celebrated their delayed freedom and America began a new chapter in its racial relations journey, June 19 became known as Juneteenth. 

According to the Texas State Library, Juneteenth celebrations began in 1866 with prayer services and community festivals. These celebrations spread throughout southern states and in 1980, Juneteenth became a Texas state holiday. 

More recently, activists have pushed for national recognition of the holiday and its history. On June 18, 2021, President Joe Biden officially made Juneteenth a federal holiday.  Now, many institutions, including WSU, are beginning to observe the holiday. 

Federal Holiday Status

Juneteenth is a federal holiday with most Americans receiving the day off from work and school. Dr. Quatez Scott, outgoing intercultural specialist for the WSU Bolinga Black Cultural Resource Center, advocates for education and recognition of the holiday.

“Celebrations shouldn’t begin and end with accepting a day off, but taking opportunities to learn about what the day is being celebrated,” Scott wrote. 

Scott also sees this holiday as an opportunity for beginning conversations on systemic racism and the challenges Black Americans still face.

Continued Progress

While those like Scott approach the holiday with enthusiasm, others like Gary Neal, president of the Black Student Union, express mixed feelings about the holiday. 

Neal notes that systemic racism still exists and that Juneteenth should not only be a celebration of Black history but a call to action on institutions to assist marginalized communities. 

“I can see the effort. I think it’s amazing that it is a federal holiday now, but I just feel like it’s not enough,” Neal said. “It’s like okay thank you for the holiday but, there are still major systemic issues in our country that need to be addressed.” 

Neal points to the difficulties of 2020, protests and the continuance of racial tensions in the US as points of improvement and topics to recognize and discuss during Juneteenth. 

The University will be closed on Monday, June 20 in observance of the holiday. 

Jamie Naylor


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