Editorial | The spirit of Juneteenth in NYC and America

juneteenth 2024
New York State Senator, Cordell Cleare and City Council Member, Yusef Salaam lead the parade for Masjib Malcolm Shabazz’s 31st annual Juneteenth celebration in Harlem on Saturday, June 15.
Photo ET Rodriguez

Juneteenth is much more than just the newest holiday on the federal calendar; it is a profound lesson in equality and the importance of the ongoing work to make this union called America more perfect today than yesterday.

This holiday marks the emancipation of the last slaves in America, who were told of their freedom on June 19, 1865 — roughly two months after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, who two years earlier signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all those in bondage within our country.

Lincoln signed the proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, amid the ongoing Civil War sparked by the question of slavery and whether this country would ever fulfill the Declaration of Independence doctrine of all men being created equal. It would take more than two more years of war and slow communications for the final slaves in this country, residing in Texas, to finally receive the freedom they had been so long denied.

The spirit of Juneteenth can be summarized in something that President John F. Kennedy declared at the height of the Cold War, at the Berlin Wall, nearly a century later: “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.”

No one in 1863 or 1864 could celebrate the emancipation of one slave in America while so many others remained captive. Only after the last slaves received the news of their freedom could this country fully rejoice.

And yet, in the years that followed, this country faced one effort after another to oppress Black Americans and deny them the equal rights they deserve.

Thanks to the eternal work of freedom fighters like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, much progress has been made to advance the cause of freedom in America. Voting rights were codified into law and the Constitution; “separate-but-equal” segregation was destroyed in the courts.

The nation took giant steps toward providing freedom and justice for all Americans — yet even today, America faces efforts by ignorant politicians to have equal rights and voting rights stripped or limited for Americans of all walks of life.

“Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.” When rights are unjustly taken from one American, they are taken from all Americans.

We will not achieve full freedom in this country if Americans are suppressed for any reason — by color, by creed, by race, by gender, by sexual orientation. We must reject any efforts to deny freedom to those who wish to live free in this great land.

On this Juneteenth and beyond, let us carry the spirit of this great holiday forward to reach, as Lincoln famously said, “a new birth of freedom” both now and for generations of Americans to come.