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Juneteenth Named Official Holiday

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by | Jun 16, 2020

Antioch College announces that June 19—Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Cel-Liberation Day, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States—will be recognized annually as an official holiday. The campus community will be encouraged to observe the holiday in reflection, celebrations, and action.

Juneteenth commemorates the date in 1865 when Union troops traveling through Texas arrived at their last stop in Galveston to deliver the news to still-enslaved Black people that the Civil War had ended two months earlier, and that they were free. Many slaveholders in Texas had withheld this information. Rather than dwell on the duplicity of the slaveholders, in the following years the newly freed and other Black people throughout the South chose to mark the date by celebrating their freedom with public gatherings that included food and music. This Friday will mark the 155th celebration of Juneteenth.

Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor History Kevin McGruder notes that “Juneteenth celebrations declined in the 20th century, but regained interest during the Civil Rights and Black Power eras of the 1960s and 1970s. Today Juneteenth is celebrated around the world.”

The proposal was brought to College Council—the College’s shared-governance policy-making body composed of staff, faculty, and students— by current student and Board of Trustee member Chris Chavers, Class of ’21.

“I brought Juneteenth forward to be recognized at Antioch because it needs to be a national holiday,” says Chavers. “The liberation of our people needs to be felt across the nation. Black people deserve days of celebration and victories. Black bodies globally are screaming the pain of our existence because of the violence of white supremacy. This day reminds us of our ancestors’ resilience and fight. Power to the people!”

The motion to establish Juneteeth as an official holiday included discussion for how the day can serve as an opportunity for education and action in subsequent years, and was unanimously endorsed by College Council and approved by President Tom Manley. College offices will be closed in observance, and it is a paid holiday for employees.

“I supported this proposal but stressed the need for the College to include an educational component to our recognition of Juneteenth,” says Vice President for Student Affairs & Senior Diversity Officer Mila Cooper. She explains that outside of the Black community, Juneteenth remains a largely obscure celebration, if not unknown. Enslavement of Africans and subsequent freedom is part of the fabric of America and its history. Copper adds, “Given the continued struggle for justice that Black Americans face from lynching, Jim Crow, mass incarceration to the present state of police violence and racism, this is another step to bring these issues to the forefront.  As we grapple with our storied history, we recommit ourselves to current social justice issues.”

President Tom Manley adds, “As a college founded around service to social justice, we stand in solidarity with the movement to end racism. Observing Juneteenth is one right step, and overdue step, that we take as a community as we seek new ways to learn, to take action, and to challenge the status quo and our own personal and institutional complacency. Unambiguous and sustained resolve is required from institutions and individuals in order to serve justice.”

Official Juneteenth flag