Fictional vignette written by Coast Guard Office of Diversity & Inclusion
"For African Americans, Juneteenth is a second Independence Day,” said Hope Balamani, chief of the Coast's Guard's Office of Diversity & Inclusion (CG-127). "It commemorates the liberation of enslaved African-Americans.”
Texas was the last state of the Confederacy in which enslaved people finally gained their freedom and it required the Union Army to enforce it.
Over the years and through successive waves of migration, Juneteenth commemorations spread to neighboring states and eventually the country at large, said Dr. Spencer Crew, the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History at George Mason University and Emeritus Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History.
Today, Juneteenth celebrations include parades, rodeos, street fairs, family reunions, park parties, cookouts, music festivals, panel discussions, proclamations, and notably — federal recognition.
The Juneteenth National Independence Day was designated as a federal holiday in 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since legislation making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday was enacted in 1983.
The Coast Guard’s Civil Rights Directorate, led by Dr. Terri Dickerson, will present a conversation with Dr. Crew about the history and significance of Juneteenth on Thursday, June 16, at 11:00 am ET in the Coast Guard Headquarters’ Ray Evans Conference Center and virtually via Teams (for audio only call: (410) 874-6752).
Dr. Crew met with Coast Guard Office of Diversity & Inclusion staff for a quick Q&A, ahead of the talk, to share a few insights concerning the historical significance of Juneteenth.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CG-127 Staff: What can Juneteenth teach us about freedom?
Dr. Crew: You have people who were still living in bondage, even though the Emancipation Proclamation had technically freed them some two and a half years prior. Juneteenth is a reminder that freedom, rights, the vote; citizenship have been denied and delayed to many Americans, particularly African Americans, and there continues to be an ongoing pursuit of equality and justice for all today. Renewed issues concerning freedom and liberty and who that should be applied to have brought increased prominence to Juneteenth. Freedom has slowly, surely, and often begrudgingly been enlarged to include more Americans. Keep in mind when the Constitution was written, only white men with property were allowed to participate in the political system. Juneteenth provides an opportunity to explore current issues concerning access to the benefits of full citizenship. It’s a time to reflect and remember that these rights are ours even if someone tries to deny them. Citizenship and all it implies is ours.
CG-127 Staff: Though General Order No. 3 declared absolute equality between former masters and slaves, the order also advised formerly enslaved people to remain at their present location and work for wages. Why were formerly enslaved people advised to remain?
Dr. Crew: Who chooses to be a slave? Who chooses to stay in painful, miserable circumstances; where your family has been broken apart and you have been treated less than humanely? No one. But there were crops that needed to be harvested and brought to market and even the (Union) military needed laborers to help rebuild after the war. So what the order is conveying is you’re free, you’re going to get paid, but we don’t want to change the basic operation of the economy.
CG-127 Staff: What are some ways to celebrate Juneteenth?
Dr. Crew: Juneteenth is not just for African Americans. Juneteenth is an important celebration for every American. It's an important part of American history and our future. All are welcome; all are embraced. Gather with those who are important to you. Reflect on what Juneteenth meant for those who first celebrated it and what it can mean for you today; especially with regard to the ongoing challenges concerning rights of citizenship being denied and delayed to some Americans.