Reflecting on Juneteenth, 157 years later

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On June 19, 1865, the news of the Emancipation Proclamation — a document issued by President Abraham Lincoln that freed enslaved Black Americans — first reached Galveston, Texas, two years after its signing. In honor of Juneteenth this Sunday, musicians and entertainment professionals share what the holiday means to them.

Emmy-winning actor Courtney B. Vance reflected on the resiliency of Black people in the United States.

“Our people are great, and we started with nothing and came into something,” he said. “And so any opportunity I have just to teach, starting with our children, about how great we are and how great our ancestors are and were– Yes, things may be difficult now, but when you go past the first Google page and just look and see what our people had to deal with and still they rose. Everywhere they looked was a no.”

Vance noted the creation of Juneteenth — a celebration born out of the struggle facing Black people — but also expressed hope.

“It’s a message for us all that sometimes life is difficult and it’s going to be trial. But if we just press on, there will be a victory.”

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President Joe Biden signed Juneteenth into law June 17, 2021, making it a federal holiday. But it has been celebrated in the Black community for more than a century. Essence Magazine CEO Caroline Wanga shared her thoughts by asking, “If you think about how long it took for Juneteenth to happen, then what are the things that you currently aren’t celebrating that you should be that are already yours, that you don’t know about?”

In addition to the usual festivals and gatherings, Wanga suggests a different way to celebrate.

“That’s what I would love people to spend Juneteenth doing is recognizing that that holiday was about the last of us finding out that we were freer than we thought,” she said. “What I want us to do is never have to do Juneteenth again and celebrate all the things that are true about us that are already here right now that we just don’t know about. Go Google something and celebrate that on Juneteenth.” 

The 157th anniversary of Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Black Independence Day, is this Sunday, June 19.

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