“I have no idea what Juneteenth is,” said one BYU-Idaho student, who asked to remain anonymous. “I just know it’s a holiday.”
That is an unfortunately common response to the inquiry about what Juneteenth is. Though Juneteenth is actually on June 19, BYU-I is observing the holiday by holding no classes on June 20 to allow people to celebrate.
While Juneteenth is widely celebrated across America, this cancellation of classes could lead those who are unaware of the importance of the holiday to ask the question, “What are we celebrating?”
The answer lies back on June 19, 1865, in an address given by General Granger to the people of Texas, called General Order Number 3.
The order began with a historic first sentence:
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
That day, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was declared by Abraham Lincoln, slavery was formally abolished throughout all of America.
Juneteenth.com wrote in a press release, “And with those words, our country changed, this world changed. And, with bold and contentious decisions, we have continued to change – striving always to make it right, to make it better for all.”
For those who feel no connection to the horrible history of slavery, or may even be ashamed of their ancestors’ participation in it, it can be hard to want to think about that time. But the point of Juneteenth is not to shame or divide, but to unite and celebrate.
Kay C. James, the former president of The Heritage Foundation, wrote, “Let us look at Juneteenth just as we look at Independence Day — as a great turning point for freedom in our nation’s history, and one where we were willing to pay a heavy price to ultimately live out our highest ideals.”
Juneteenth is a holiday that can and should be celebrated by all races and ethnicities. We can all celebrate freedom, and we should all celebrate freedom.
Juneteenth has been informally celebrated by many since the day itself, and on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation to make it a federal United States holiday. This has caused the holiday to get much more attention and popularity.
As Juneteenth.com wrote, “Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.”