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Juneteenth: What Was Learned as a Nation

by | Jun 19, 2024 | #DiversityandInclusion, Government Entities

A raised American flagToday marks three years since Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday. This holiday commemorates the deliverance of the news of emancipation to the last slaves in the United States in 1865, following the end of the Civil War. Even though President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the executive decree was not fully enacted throughout the country for an additional two years. This period of American history is riddled with tremendous strife and loss; but we emerged from the chaos on a more unified path. The lessons of Juneteenth are of critical importance, both now and for our future generations.

Change is Possible

The decades preceding the Civil War proved to be a grim precursor of years to come; for instance, the “Bleeding Kansas” period. While many at the time could predict an inevitable national conflict, none would find a preventative solution. Abolitionists and pre-Confederates were increasingly frustrated with the series of fruitless political compromises on the topic of slavery. Undoubtedly, advocates of civil rights must have felt hopeless at times.

Fortunately for us in the present, millions of Americans back then found the civil rights cause worthy of great sacrifice. In the face of tremendous odds, the prospect of unprecedented death, and the potential collapse of our nation, the Union persisted to victory. As a result of the Civil War, some estimates claim the death toll of American lives at over 750,000 people. As if the case for human rights had already not been decided with blood, political and social dissent continued long after the war’s conclusion. The fight against segregation continued through the reconstruction era (the “Jim Crow Era”), the Red Summer of 1919, and the civil rights movement of the mid-21st century.

While Juneteenth does not mark the end of injustice, bigotry, and racial tensions in America, it does signify an important message; despite the constant demand for struggle and sacrifice, change is possible. We as a nation are not only capable of successfully advancing civil rights in our legal codes, but millions of Americans are willing to do so at a great personal expense. Equality – regardless of its moving pace – is unquestionably advancing to a brighter and attainable future.

Follow Through to the End

Another important lesson of Juneteenth is the necessity for thorough and persistent commitment when it comes to achieving goals. It is not always the case that the larger the sacrifice, the faster the results will manifest. Change requires time. Arriving at the goal should not signal the complete abandonment of your efforts; rather, redirect those efforts into the maintenance of the outcome.

After surviving such a monumental force of resistance, the Union was put in an incredibly difficult position during the reconstruction era. The federal government, especially under President Ulysses Grant, was not naïve to possibility of the regression of national progress. The enforcement of the policies that our nation died to achieve was of paramount importance. This is why federal troops were sent out across the States to ensure the adoption of emancipation. In a sense, the end of the civil war had opened the doors to the abolition of slavery; but it was arguably the actions of the reconstruction era government that truly enforced, and delivered on, those policies. Furthermore, civil rights activists such as Ida B. Wells continued this struggle into the next century. We celebrate Juneteenth today as a reminder of the post-war Americans that continued the work of expanding our freedoms. We are tasked with the same duties as our ancestors on Juneteenth; to maintain our freedoms with proper diligence, and to ensure our descendants do the same.

Sources & Further Reading

  • | Ida B. Wells: Quotes, Facts & Children – Link
  • | Bleeding Kansas: Summary, Causes & John Brown’s Role – Link
  •| Civil Rights Movement: Timeline, Key Events & Leaders – Link
  • | How Many Died in the American Civil War? – Link
  • | Jim Crow Laws: Definition, Facts & Timeline – Link
  • | Red Summer of 1919: How Black WWI Vets Faught Back Against Racist Mobs – Link
  • U.S. National Archives | The Emancipation Proclamation – Link
  • U.S. National Archives | Juneteenth – Link
  • U.S. National Museum of African American History and Culture – Link

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