Though Juneteenth has been celebrated nationwide for more than 150 years, many non-Black Americans were largely unfamiliar with its origins until recently. The holiday, otherwise known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, is an annual commemoration of June 19, 1865, the day that General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform its citizens that all enslaved people were officially free.
General Granger read aloud General Order Number 3, which stated, in part: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
The message arrived nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863; Texas was the most remote of the slave states, and therefore the last to receive word. The name for the holiday is a portmanteau of the words “June” and “nineteenth,” and every year since that fateful June day in 1865, folks have celebrated with park gatherings, street fairs, parades, and even Miss Juneteenth competitions. In 1872, a group of Black ministers and businessmen in Houston purchased 10 acres of land to create what is now known as Emancipation Park, where they hoped annual Juneteenth celebrations would take place for generations to come.
In 2020, Juneteenth received unprecedented media coverage in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. The calls to make Juneteenth a national holiday grew louder as more Americans became aware of this critical but oft-overlooked celebration. Since then, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) has been leading the charge to try to make Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday. “I think Juneteenth tells a wonderful story,” Jackson Lee said. “It’s a story of freedom. It happened two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, but it still set a pathway of freedom. Who are we as a nation, if you’re frightened about freedom and liberation and joy?”
In honor of Juneteenth and the folks who have continued to preserve its spirit, here are 12 quotes about freedom that speak to the importance of remembering the past in order to push for a more equitable future.
Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.
— Toni Morrison, "Beloved"
Today on Juneteenth, the day we celebrate the end of slavery, the day we memorialize those who offered us hope for the future and the day when we renew our commitment to the struggle for freedom.
— Angela Davis
I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.
— Harriet Tubman
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
— Martin Luther King Jr.
Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.
— Fannie Lou Hamer
Liberty is slow fruit. It is never cheap; it is made difficult because freedom is the accomplishment and perfectness of man.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.
— Malcolm X
I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.
— Frederick Douglass
Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.
— Coretta Scott King
Freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. They claim it as their own and none can keep it from them.
— Kwame Nkrumah
My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.
— Desmond Tutu
I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive.
— Harriet Tubman
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