On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” However, freedom did not come immediately for hundreds of thousands of enslaved people. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 2 years after it was declared. Part of Juneteenth is to remember that the true end of slavery did not correlate with this announcement. For years and even decades, many Black Texans and Black Americans were left intentionally uninformed about the end of slavery, and often faced violence and murder rather than being released. This legacy of racism has been continued through Jim Crow laws, the Tulsa Race Massacre, the War on Drugs, environmental redlining, and a slew of other policies and norms ingrained in our society. In 2021 President Joe Biden made Juneteenth the 11th holiday recognized by the federal government. Juneteenth is a day for Black Americans, particularly those descended from people who were enslaved, to symbolize their freedom. For non-Black people, Juneteenth is a day for reparations and self-education. Read the next few paragraphs written by Black leaders regarding Juneteenth to gain a deeper understanding of what this day means.
Quintard Taylor, Juneteenth: The Growth of an African American Holiday (1865- )
“By 1900 the [Juneteenth] festivities had grown to include baseball games, horse races, street fairs, rodeos, railroad excursions, and formal balls. Two distinct trends emerged with these early celebrations. First, the oldest of the surviving former slaves were often given a place of honor. That place of honor rose in direct proportion to the dwindling numbers of survivors with each passing year. Secondly, Black Texans initially used these gatherings to locate missing family members and soon they became staging areas for family reunions.
In the 1980s a number of local community activists rediscovered Juneteenth and persuaded public officials to embrace the holiday. Not surprisingly, Texas in 1980 became the first state to declare Juneteenth an official state holiday. Other states in the West began to recognize the holiday as well. In 1994 the “Modern Juneteenth Movement” began when advocates from across the country gathered in New Orleans where they pledged to work for national recognition of the holiday. A number of holiday promotion organizations emerged after that meeting including the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage (NAJL), the National Juneteenth Celebration Organization (NJCA), and the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF). No one was more active than Opal Lee of Fort Worth, Texas, affectionally called the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” In 2016, Lee at the age of 89, walked from her home in Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., personally energizing the movement with her slogan, “go bigger,” as she urged supporters to pressure Congress and the White House to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
In 1997 the U.S. Congress had passed a resolution officially recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day in the United States. Three years later the first annual Washington Juneteenth National Holiday Observance took place in the nation’s capital. By June 2020, 47 states and the District of Columbia had established either full or partial recognition of the holiday. Only Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota have not. On June 17, 2021, however, thanks to the lobbying efforts of Opal Lee and others, President Joseph Biden signed into law the Juneteenth Bill making June 19, a federal holiday throughout the United States.”
Aallyah Wright, Juneteenth Has Gone Mainstream. Should Everyone Be Celebrating?
“Some are still skeptical about what Juneteenth’s rise in popularity means for the authenticity of the holiday. In the run-up to the holiday, there has been backlash to Walmart selling Juneteenth Ice Cream and the Indianapolis Children’s Museum offering Juneteenth Watermelon Salad. Both organizations have since issued apologies and removed the items from their shelves.
In Arkansas, a ‘leaked’ Juneteenth soul food and market festival flyer featured an all-white panel of judges and sparked outrage on social media. That event was canceled.
Goldstone said that such incidents have distracted from the need for more discussions on policy changes and for white people to engage in anti-racism work related to economic inequality and housing security during Juneteenth.
‘Malcolm X said in his autobiography that white people need to form their own organizations and do anti- racism work with other white people,’ Goldstone said. ‘Until they are willing to put their lives on the line, as they did during the Freedom Rides when white people were getting beaten up like Black people were, I just don’t see much changing.’
For some Black groups, the holiday provides an opportunity to join with white neighbors and educate the masses about Juneteenth and the nation’s history.
Lue Lockridge-Lane, an organizer for the event in Fayette, said it was important to grow the ‘ministry beyond the pulpit’ in honor of Juneteenth. Their celebration has expanded because people want to be more involved in political and social justice issues affecting Black people, she said. The event has served as the catalyst for those conversations.
‘It’s not just the African American community, but the community as a whole having the dialogue and checking and seeing what are the types of things that we need to do,’ Lockridge-Lane said. Asking questions like ‘‘If you could make a difference or change in this community, what would that change look like?’ That part of it to me is what’s been stimulating the added interest in Juneteenth and excitement about it.’
Although there’s disagreement on how Juneteenth should be celebrated, the focus should be on the celebration, said Linda Reed, associate professor and interim chair of the Department of African American Studies at the University of Houston. There are so few opportunities that Black people have to really celebrate their culture and history, she noted.
‘The more you talk about it, the more it becomes a part of you,” Reed said of the holiday. “And everybody should know the history of it.’”
Juneteenth has a direct and vital relationship with environmental activism and justice. Although the environmental movement was largely founded by Black people, activism spaces are often white-dominated. Not only that, but environmental impacts on quality of life consistently affect Black people the most. It would be a failure on the part of our organization not to recognize how our work is intertwined with the missions of anti-racism, pro-Blackness, and pro-equity. Read the next few paragraphs written by Black authors regarding and combating environmental racism.
Courtnie Phillip, Who Is An Environmentalist? Changing the Face of Enviromentalism
“The perception that environmentalism is a “white space” is not unique to my experience. A 2018 report found that Americans tend to associate the term “environmentalist” with someone who is White and well-educated, while generally underestimating the environmental concerns of lower-income populations and communities of color. Interestingly, this same survey found that non-White groups, particularly Black, Latino, and Asian people, actually reported a higher level of concern for the environment and climate change than Whites. Similarly, low-income groups (earning less than $15,000 per year) reported higher levels of concern than high-income groups (earning more than $150,000 per year).
These misperceptions and deep-seated stereotypes about environmental attitudes among non-White populations impede the progress of environmental initiatives. If we don’t work to challenge these notions, we’ll miss a huge opportunity to broaden public participation in environmental advocacy and decision-making. From a political perspective, these misperceptions about who does and doesn’t care about these issues can affect the level of engagement in the most supportive communities…Leaders in our community have been doing this work for decades without sufficient funding, resources or platforms. It’s time for America to recognize and value their work. Uplifting these voices also forces society to reckon with the full scope and devastating impact of climate change.”
The Institute for Sustainable Communities Staff, Juneteenth: Ensuring sustainability through equity for Black Americans
“At the Institute for Sustainable Communities, our mission is to support communities worldwide in addressing environmental, economic, and social challenges to build a better future shaped and shared by all. There is no sustainable future without equity. Black communities are disproportionately living the impacts of climate change, from extreme heat, to food deserts, to increased storm activity and flooding. Because of this, racial equity is the cornerstone of ISC’s work in the United States.
We encourage you to join ISC in honoring America’s second Independence Day by engaging with your local communities to reflect, learn and serve. Here are a few ideas:
- Connect with organizations that place equity for Black and Brown people first.
Around the U.S., Partnership for Resilient Communities members are creating resilient and thriving communities. This Juneteenth and beyond, search for similar organizations in your neighborhood to support or volunteer.
- Support African-American and Black-owned businesses.
Investing money in small companies and entrepreneurs provides opportunities for economic development, property ownership, and generational wealth.
- Assess your organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.
Does your business or office provide equitable opportunities for all employees? Do you have diverse senior leadership? Be transparent about your company’s initiatives and areas for improvement. See our Core Competency documents from the Urban Equity Climate Compact for more resources.”
Clean Fuels Ohio’s mission is to improve air quality and health, reduce environmental pollution, and strengthen Ohio’s economy by increasing the use of cleaner, domestic fuels and energy-saving vehicles. While this has historically focused on fleets, Clean Fuels Ohio is committed to increasing its focus on motorists, as well as ways to address and achieve more equitable access to clean transportation solutions for Ohio’s residents. We believe mobility is a basic right in modern society, yet residents of underinvested, low-income, and historically discriminated communities experience disproportionately negative mobility outcomes. Clean Fuels Ohio is committed to working to address these challenges. Our Drive Electric Ohio program is partnering with underinvested BIPOC communities in Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus to identify local priorities and bring sustainable transportation solutions to these communities. This Equity-Focused Community Collaboration project will consist of three phases, including stakeholder engagement, diverse Project Advisory Committee input, community listening sessions, collaborative project design, Community Need Assessment Report development, outreach, educational programming, and project implementation. Projects might include pursuing funds for EV chargers in the community and planning installation, electrification of public transit serving the community, or arranging for access to workforce development opportunities for community members. We are currently in the first phase of this project and in the process of establishing the Project Advisory Committee. This project will focus on the need for equity and access in sustainable transportation initiatives due to the notorious exclusion of disinvested communities and communities of color. It is important to Clean Fuels Ohio and the Drive Electric Ohio team that equity and access are prioritized in the alternative fuel industry, and we intend to reflect these priorities in this project and all future endeavors. Clean Fuels Ohio understands the historical missteps associated with environmental justice and the disinvestment of Black communities, and we are especially mindful as we celebrate Juneteenth.
If you or your organization would like to participate in this project as a member of the Project Advisory Committee, or if you have any other input you would like to share, please contact the Drive Electric Ohio team at [email protected] and [email protected].