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Free-ish Since 1865

June 19 is also known as Juneteenth. But what exactly is Juneteenth, and why is it both culturally and historically significant? Juneteenth represents freedom to African Americans in the same way Independence Day represents freedom to America as a whole. It is also often referred to as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, or the Black Fourth of July.

The Emancipation Proclamation gave technical freedom to enslaved Black people on January 1, 1863. Juneteenth marks the formal reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by Union soldiers freeing slaves in Texas two and a half years later when news made it to Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. As newly freed slaves began to move north and spread out looking for family members that had been sold elsewhere, they took the significance of the day with them.

Since June 19, 1865, Black people are still fighting systemic racism and oppression, and it comes in many forms. Segregation, Jim Crow, red-lining, predatory lending, and the inability to use the GI Bill for African American soldiers following WWII are examples of institutional racism that Black people are still actively fighting to equalize today. These examples kept Black people from educational opportunities, property purchases and wealth building.

So, why celebrate a day that seems so bittersweet? Marking this historical event should be important because it reminds us of our country’s flawed past and forces us to continue to think about how we work together to fully dismantle the systems of oppression that face Black communities. It reminds us that the communities that are furthest from opportunity are there because of systems put in place in post-slavery America and the continued preservation of that culture into today. There is a need for organizations like NMSI to continue to create opportunities for equity in STEM education as a means to break down and reverse how these systems and inequities show up for students, for teachers and for ultimately for communities.

While it should be a time of reflection and reconciliation, Juneteenth is also a day of celebration. Today, Black people across the country celebrate Juneteenth with festivals, parades, cookouts, family gatherings, activism, volunteer work and a commitment to continuing the fight to gain full and unconditional equality in America. Even before it became a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, 47 states and the District of Columbia observed Juneteenth as a holiday, either formally or ceremonially. For more information about Juneteenth and its significance to America, visit juneteenth.com or google events (live and virtual) happening in your area to celebrate.