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Recognizing Juneteenth as a Federal Holiday

On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, the date that Major General Gordon Granger, who fought for the Union, informed slaves in Galveston, Texas, that they had been freed. This is despite many history books leading us to believe all slaves walked free with the signing of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, supported by the 13th amendment to the Constitution on January 31, 1865.

The long overdue recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is a moment to be celebrated. It is also bittersweet for many people. When appreciating a rose, it is important to be mindful of the thorns.

Juneteenth is now a recognized federal holiday; meanwhile, some Penn State World Campus students are reluctant to turn their camera on for fear that they will be judged when their skin color is revealed.

Juneteenth is now a recognized federal holiday; meanwhile, 14 states have developed 22 new laws making it harder for people who look like me to vote.

Juneteenth is now a recognized federal holiday; meanwhile, since 1937, our country has federally observed Columbus Day, a holiday celebrating someone who enslaved, tortured, and killed thousands of indigenous people and inhabited their land.

Juneteenth is now a recognized federal holiday; meanwhile, my ancestors endured physical, mental, and verbal atrocities to pave the way for future generations and did not live to see the fruit of their labors.

Juneteenth is now a recognized federal holiday; meanwhile, students feel invisible when their instructor does not acknowledge how their mental state may be affected by the killing of unarmed people of color.

Juneteenth is now a recognized federal holiday; meanwhile, many people still must take unpaid or vacation time off work to celebrate and reflect on the contributions of our ancestors.

Juneteenth is now a recognized federal holiday; meanwhile, my husband, a Black man, is followed by security when shopping in our own neighborhood.

Juneteenth is now a recognized federal holiday; meanwhile, my ability to own a home is questioned by passersby while I’m standing on my front lawn.

I am overjoyed by the history that was made, commemorating Juneteenth, June 19, as a true Independence Day, but let us not become complacent, as there is much work still to be done.

When all people are seen as equally worthy of respect, equally worthy of rights, equally worthy of love, equally worthy of life and all that it has to offer, then we as a nation can be truly free — and we as a learning community can truly learn all we can from each other and develop as global citizens.

How did you feel about this year’s recognition of Juneteenth? Email me to continue the discussion.

Denita Wright Watson is the associate director of equity, inclusion, and advocacy at Penn State World Campus.