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June 19, also known as Juneteenth, was a date written into history. The Emancipation Proclamation was declared on January 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln. However, African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were not notified of the declaration until June 19, 1865. As a result, African Americans observe Juneteenth as the day the last slave was freed. Mass Communication Specialist 1 Class Dominic McNeil, an instructor at the Defense Information School (DINFOS), compares Juneteenth to our nation’s Independence Day.
“We have July 4, the Independence Day in our nation, but during that day, African Americans, or Black Americans, were not 100% free. Juneteenth is a celebration.”
Federal recognition of Juneteenth was signed into law just last year on June 17, 2021, furthering the commemoration of African American strides in our democracy since the implementation of Martin Luther King Day in 1983.
Knowing U.S. history and the roots of Juneteenth strengthens its impact on our military. Brown said it could benefit service members to learn more about the new federal holiday.
“Making it an actual federal holiday gives people the opportunity to educate themselves,” said Brown. “What people had to go through to make this day, what my ancestors had to go through to give this opportunity to us, and to understand the severity of how things were.”
To understand the gravitas of Juneteenth, and what it means to be a Black American throughout history and in America today, we must look back to our past to better all our futures.
“I think it's vital for all Americans to understand the history of Black Americans because it’s a big fight for us to be recognized as contributors to society,” said McNeil. “The contributions they make to the advancements of our nation, and for other ethnicities to recognize Juneteenth, helps improve relations, both racially and culturally, as a country.”
The recognition and pride associated with the disestablishment of hegemony over African Americans and the historic implementation of their independence, helps right the wrongs of America’s past.
“We've been fighting for freedom and equality for all different races, genders, and ethnicities for years and recognizing it is in the right direction,” said McNeil. “The government has decided to understand the struggles in this country and try to right some of the wrongs that were bestowed upon us. As far as the Navy goes, it's important to recognize our contributions to the Navy and the history of Black Americans in the Navy, it’s a great thing.”
Righting the wrongs of the past and federally recognizing equality for all Americans and service members by implementing holidays such as Juneteenth further amplifies our cohesiveness as a country.
“Have more conversations, understand the beginnings, and just step back and look at perspective,” said McNeil. “Change, culture, environment, and the tensions that flare up during these conversations is key to understanding where they're coming from and that we might not always agree.”
These conversations are sparked by the implementations of holidays like Juneteenth and Martin Luther King Day. Having conversations centered around rights, whether civil or ethical, and morally recognizing all people in our country is the right thing to do.
“If you're raised in a certain way of doing things and you're used to it, that's where your morals come from, as people, we try to understand it,” said Brown. “But if we cannot be open-minded with each other how are we ever going to be able to fight for each other?”
Service members overcome adversity daily, whether it’s haze gray and underway or boots on the ground in the Middle East. The last thing they should have to worry about is the color of their skin affecting how they fight for their country. Implementations like a federally recognized Juneteenth are significant to not only service members but to the United States of America as a whole.
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