On this day 155 years ago, some of the last vestiges of America’s most malignant institution were stamped out. General Gordon Granger read out to Galveston, Texas, the federal orders that proclaimed freedom to the enslaved in the most remote state of the Confederacy. With this reading, the United States of America took a momentous step towards the realization of it’s promise. Despite President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation taking effect on January 1st of 1863, the treason of the Confederacy remained for another two and a half years. It took the valor and sacrifice of several thousand more Union soldiers, both Black and White, before the abolition of slavery could be fully realized.
Every single American should have something to celebrate today. The most egregious affront to the humanity of Black Americans was eradicated. The sacrifice of heroic American soldiers was vindicated. The Union established by the Constitution was restored. The liberty and justice declared in 1776 gained precious ground towards their realization for all Americans. As one uniquely eloquent Instagram post put it, Juneteenth is the day America became America.
Yet we should make no mistake. That great work of becoming is not yet complete. Our nation is grieving the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. We are grappling with the reality that many of our systems from criminal justice to education continue to treat our Black neighbors with three fifths of their humanity. As we face a reckoning for our country’s history of racism, Juneteenth has taken on added significance. The work of Reconstruction was never completed. The work of the Civil Rights Movement remains unfinished. Therefore, as we celebrate the freedom proclaimed a century and a half ago, let us not forget that America is again in need of a new birth of freedom.