This weekend in Dubuque and around the country, communities will celebrate Juneteenth, marking 156 years since the end of slavery. It’s an important event to commemorate for numerous reasons.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, officially ending slavery in states still rebelling against the Union. But enforcing the new law relied on the advancement of Union troops, and word did not reach the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, until almost two and a half years later — on June 19, 1865. By then, nearly a quarter-million enslaved Black people were working in Texas.
Slavery was still legal and practiced in Delaware and Kentucky until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified later that year.
June 19, or Juneteenth, became the symbolic end of the era of slavery, and today is marked as a national holiday in most states.
This year in Dubuque marks the 11th annual Juneteenth presented by Multicultural Family Center, though similar celebrations had gone on for at least a decade prior. It’s widely considered nationally to be the longest-running African-American holiday.
The occasion provides not just a celebratory atmosphere of music, games and great food — though there’s that, too — but an opportunity to raise cultural awareness and educate communities about the importance of the day. That’s particularly important in places such as Dubuque, where people of color have not always felt welcomed and represent a fraction of the population.
African-Americans living in Dubuque want the same things as most people want in a hometown: quality education availability, employment opportunities, affordable housing and public safety. For Dubuque to continue to grow and remain competitive and relevant in a changing economy means to embrace today’s world and all the diversity that represents. It will require engaging with more people, learning to work together and overcoming cultural barriers. Understanding our neighbors and the history that has made them who they are today will go a long way toward building better community relations.
This week, we celebrate Juneteenth as America’s second Independence Day — the one that extended freedom to all Americans. We remember the scourge of slavery so many endured and vow to keep working toward becoming the land of equal opportunity.