On June 19th, or Juneteenth as it has long been called in the Texas communities where it originated, we commemorate the day in 1865 when enslaved Black people in the state finally learned they were free. The day is significant not only as a part of the ending of US chattel slavery, but also because of what it tells us about the historical shortcomings of justice for enslaved Black people and their descendants. 
June 19, 1865 was two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the document that legally ended slavery in states that had seceded from the Union. That two and a half years was not just the time it took for news to travel, it was the result of intentional efforts by slave holding states to thwart the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. Texas became the last bastion of the slave-holding south with many slave owners from other states relocating themselves and those they enslaved to Texas in a last ditch effort to avoid conceding defeat. All of this to say that Juneteenth, and what it marks and represents, is nuanced, complicated, and deserves thoughtful consideration and action.
In recent years, the visibility and significance of Juneteenth has exploded as many organizations and individuals looked to express commitments to racial justice following the brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others. While this newfound visibility and appreciation is exciting, it risks obscuring the historical and regional nuances of the day as well as what Juneteenth can tell us about the continued pursuit of justice for Black Americans. For example, this year many have criticized the way the day has become increasingly commercialized and used to sell everything from ice cream to drink koozies. Juneteenth should most certainly be observed and celebrated, but its celebration should not be mistaken as a general marker of anti-racism or generic recognition of freedom and independence. Juneteenth is a particular and specific reminder of the failures of performative and inadequate justice work. It is a cautionary tale and any celebrations that come out of it are ones that enslaved Black people and their descendants worked and continue to work to cultivate despite the ongoing demoralizing and lethal impact of anti-Black racism and white supremacy in the U.S. 
As a Black woman born and raised in Texas, I have celebrated Juneteenth for as long as I can remember. However, in my communities of origin Juneteenth is more than a celebration. It is also a day to remember and to build on that remembrance in order to strategize, organize, and mobilize for the continued fight for racial justice. As we observe Juneteenth this year, Black Americans continue to face systemic and interpersonal racism in many forms, including in housing, health care, food systems, policing, gun violence, environmental health, and other areas that directly impact public health. I encourage each of you to amplify your celebrations this year by learning more of the history of this day and contemplating its significance in a state like Michigan with its own complicated history around freedom and enslavement. In particular, I urge you to celebrate this day by supporting organizations and people that recognize racism as a public health crisis and are actively working to combat it. At the end of this email, you’ll find some resources to help you get started.

-Whitney Peoples, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Related Events
2022 Juneteenth Symposium

The University of Michigan and its partner, the Ann Arbor Branch of the NAACP, will host the University’s 2nd Annual Juneteenth Symposium. The theme is Celebrate, Educate, Inspire.

June 15-18 | Register

Join Ypsilanti's second annual Juneteenth Celebration in Downtown Ypsilanti and Depot Town.

June 18-19