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What Does Juneteenth Mean to Villanova University?

Here are the simple facts. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom. On January 1, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This Civil War document freed the enslaved populations in all the states of the Confederacy.  It was not until June 19, 1865, however, over thirty months later, that General George Granger rode into Galveston Bay, TX (the westernmost Confederate state of Texas), with federal orders that all enslaved people were now free.1  The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture call Juneteenth our country’s second Independence Day.2

For a long time, Juneteenth was celebrated only in the Black community, marked by parades and picnics. That has changed. Since 1980, forty-seven of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as either a state holiday or a ceremonial holiday. There have been Congressional Speeches and Presidential Proclamations.3 Juneteenth has become a national celebration.

Juneteenth is an important time for reflection. Let’s go back a second and think about how enslaved Americans felt when they heard the words declaring them free. Imagine the mothers and fathers looking at their children and imaging the possibilities for their future. Imagine those parents, those children, those husbands and wives who lost loved ones to the auction block, realizing that this was a moment when they could begin a search to recover their broken families. In short, Juneteenth is more than just a celebration. It is a time when all American people are asked to learn about the realities associated with being enslaved and the freedom that was promised. 

This is not the space to talk about what happened after June 19, 1865, or the hope of Reconstruction, and its untimely ending. There are a number of high acclaimed accessible texts by such authors as Eric Foner, Ibram X. Kendi or Douglas Blackmon that can supply missing pieces of the Black American story, as does a comprehensive collection of materials in the Library of Congress.

This year, Juneteenth provides an opportunity for Villanovans to pause and reflect on the significance of race not only in America, but in our home communities and in our communities at work. Racial injustices and inequities are as real as they are pervasive. Though the institution of slavery ended one hundred and fifty-five years ago, the challenges of being Black in America remain consequential.

The marchers in the streets of all 50 states in the Union remind us that the deaths of Black men and women by the hands of our police is a reality that demands challenge. It is past time to realize that our silence, our complacency and even our ignorance of the facts does nothing but deny Black Americans the freedom promised to them that day in 1865. 

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion encourages you to use your day out of the office to lean into the information, readings or conversations that will help you learn about living race in America today.  In case you need even more information, please check these resources from Falvey Library. Ultimately is will help us all live better together at Villanova and transform our community.