Juneteenth (June 19th) marks the day in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston Texas to ensure that the 250,000 slaves living in Texas were finally freed. This occurred two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and is celebrated every year in black communities as the real end of slavery. This date in history was followed immediately by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution legally abolishing slavery and, over the next five years, by the 14th and 15th Amendments which were intended to ensure civil rights and black suffrage.
But while these were landmark actions taken by Congress, at virtually the same time the Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott decision that living in a free state or territory did not entitle a slave to freedom. And the Ku Klux Klan, also founded in 1865, used violence to terrorize freed slaves and suppress all efforts towards Reconstruction.
Today, over 155 years later, the commemoration of Juneteenth reminds us that even though a person’s rights may be granted in writing, they are too often easily denied. In spite of the hard fought efforts of civil rights activists past and present, systemic racism remains a fact in American life. It is evident in the continued killing of men and women of color, inequities in our justice system, discrimination in housing and education, current efforts to suppress the vote, and actions of white supremacist groups today.
This, then, is our collective legacy and challenge. It is the responsibility of each of us to work as hard as we can to make real change in our policies, practices, and institutions. The Mission of the YWCA is to eliminate racism and empower women. To honor Juneteenth, the YWCA of Genesee County has now made June 19th a holiday to publically acknowledge this legacy. Our hope is that, on a Juneteenth not too far away, the equal rights given through our 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments will finally and fully become reality for every black man, woman, and child living in this country.
Linda Rost is the Treasurer of the YWCA of Genesee County Board of Directors and serves as the Chair of the Finance Committee. This letter is submitted on behalf of the Board.