Tomorrow, on June 19, we will celebrate what is now known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a milestone in America’s continual journey to reckon with its original sin of slavery. On this day 156 years ago, Major General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, and informed more than 200,000 enslaved Black Americans that they were finally free — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Since then, June 19 has been recognized as Juneteenth as a celebration of the de facto end of the brutal institution of slavery in the United States.
Yesterday, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act — passed with overwhelming bipartisan support by Congress — making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Societal change cannot occur without a shared understanding of history, and this historic recognition acknowledges our nation’s troubled past. It also prompts us to reflect on the work still to be done so that African Americans receive full and equal treatment under the law and equitable treatment in American society.
USAID’s work to promote human rights and protect the rule of law overseas rings hollow without an acknowledgement that the struggle for equal rights continues here in the United States. This Juneteenth, let us uplift all those fighting for freedom and redouble our efforts to stamp out deep-rooted systemic racism, hate, and intolerance wherever they persist in the world today.