Celebrate Juneteenth, the Latest National Holiday

Spirit rock painted black with yellow message reading, Celebrate Freedom Juneteeth

On June 19, 1865, federal orders were read in Galveston, Texas, that stated the Civil War had ended and all previously enslaved peoples were declared free. More than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation – slavery was completely abolished in the United States.

Now known as Freedom Day, Black Independence Day and Emancipation Day, June 19th has been celebrated by the Black community in various forms for more than 150 years. Often referred to as “Juneteenth,” the holiday provides not only a time to celebrate freedom, but also achievement, development and cultural understanding. For some, Juneteenth is recognized as America’s second Independence Day, thereby, suggesting that Juneteenth symbolizes for many African-Americans what the Fourth of July means for all Americans.

Dr. Dewain Lee, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, speaks about her experiences celebrating Juneteenth and what the national holiday means for the Black community.

As I reflect on the tumultuous racial climate in our nation this past year, I along with many others am looking forward to the Juneteenth Celebration of 2021. Not only to acknowledge and celebrate the oldest African American holiday observance in the United States but to also come together to reflect the deaths, losses and troubled experiences of African Americans.

Dr. Dewain Lee, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, wears a mask and academic regalia
Dr. Dewain Lee, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students

Last year, our nation saw a tremendous uprising and call to demand justice and fair treatment for African Americans. This was not an uncommon call or new call for justice and equality; however, it was a loud call that was responded to by our nation. The response included President Joe Biden signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday and the first holiday to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983.

Juneteenth holds a major significance for African Americans as it signifies the true emancipation of African Americans in America. The day commemorates the anniversary of the date on which emancipation of slaves was announced in Texas and in many cities, particularly in Texas, the day is recognized as a state holiday which is celebrated and acknowledged in the African American community with great fanfare and excitement due to its significant meaning in the African American community. Many states have annually celebrated Juneteenth, however, this year’s celebrations will hold an even greater significance due to the fact Juneteenth is now a Federal Holiday and a moment in history acknowledged by not only local government in some states, but now by our national government.

Coming from a family that originated in Central Louisiana near the Texas border, Juneteenth has always been a recognized day of significance in my family acknowledged by a large celebration in the community on Saturday and during church service on the Sunday of the Juneteenth weekend. The Juneteenth celebration will hold an even greater meaning this year in my family’s hometown due to the recent federal holiday signage and because of this tremendous occasion, celebrations will be held for three days this year beginning today June 18 and ending on Sunday, June 20.

While Juneteenth is widely celebrated by many African Americans, it is important to note that this day as many other days that acknowledge various cultures and their contributions to the United States, should be a celebration for all Americans and not just African Americans.

Therefore, I ask that as a campus community we all reflect on the day and its meaning which still to this day, 158 years later, reflects the desires and aspirations of black people for freedom, justice and equality.

Happy Juneteenth!!!!

Dewain Lee, Ph.D.

Vice President for Student Life
Dean of Students