Why Juneteenth?

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Caleb Smith
  • 35th Fighter Wing

Ms. Lailah Gifty Akita, founder of the Smart Youth Volunteers Foundation, once stated, “There is beauty and power in unity. We must be united in heart and mind. One world, one people.”  Our forefathers chose to include “united” in our nation’s name because it signified togetherness and working toward a common purpose. The events of June 19, 1865, placed us on the path to achieving unity.

Growing up in Houston, Texas, my family always celebrated Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day. Early in my life, I remember large family gatherings where we enjoyed various activities. Whether dancing to music, engaging in passionate games of dominoes, or catching up with relatives we hadn't seen in a while, it was always a joyous occasion to be surrounded by family. However, the highlight of these gatherings for me was always the food. I eagerly eyed every dish, and the love poured into each one made it taste even sweeter.

Despite enjoying these celebrations, I didn't fully grasp the significance of Juneteenth until my mother explained it to me one day. She briefly mentioned that we celebrated Juneteenth because it marked the day when all slaves in America were truly freed. Intrigued by the sentiment of “truly free”, I sought to understand its deeper meaning. I was taught once the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, that was the end of slavery. I had to know the full story.

On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, General Gordon Granger, accompanied by a contingent of Union soldiers, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to issue General Order 3. Despite resistance to emancipation after the Emancipation Proclamation, this order declared the enslaved people in Texas to be free, liberating approximately 250,000 individuals from captivity. Since that day, Juneteenth has been celebrated in Texas to commemorate this significant event, eventually becoming an official state holiday in 1980.

Growing up in Texas, I often wondered why Juneteenth wasn't treated like other holidays, where children didn't attend school and parents didn't work. Why weren't families given time to be together? The answer was simple: Juneteenth was not recognized as an official federal holiday. It wasn't until the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, S. 475, was signed into law on June 17, 2021, that Juneteenth gained federal recognition. It was then that I realized many people, both in Texas and across America, didn't celebrate Juneteenth simply because they were unaware of its significance. Since its federal recognition, the story of Emancipation Day has spread across America and around the world. 

I feel proud knowing that an important part of not only black history, but American history is getting the acknowledgment that it deserves. By acknowledging the past, we highlight the many challenges African Americans have overcome in America to just be considered human in some instances. Although in the past, remembering these obstacles gives me a sense of pride, knowing that some of the world's best inventors, teachers, doctors, and lawyers overcame many challenges to do great things. Knowing this gives me an “anything is possible” mindset no matter the obstacles I may face due to the people before me facing harder obstacles than I would ever face today.  

Keep an eye out for Juneteenth events happening around Misawa Air Base.

For more information on the history of Juneteenth, please visit https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/historical-legacy-juneteenth.