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The Promise of Juneteenth

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On Monday, June 19, we will commemorate Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day or Jubilee Day.

Few things are more precious than the freedom to choose one’s own path, to seek the knowledge and work that gives our lives meaning and enriches our communities. Juneteenth marks a turning point in the struggle for freedom here in Texas, and the echoes of that history reverberate across America today, reminding us that freedom is neither easily won nor maintained without careful vigilance, compassion and a continuous push for justice and fair access.

Our newest national holiday is rooted here in Texas, commemorating the announcement in Galveston on June 19, 1865 of the Emancipation Proclamation, which outlawed slavery in the parts of the nation held by the Confederacy. For more than two years, the enslaved people of Texas labored without the knowledge of the legal end of their enslavement. It is a historic moment of intersecting triumph and tragedy --- a reminder of the fragility of freedom, the joy of its realization and the constant effort required to defend and expand that freedom. For decades, Black Texans kept this memory alive and shared it far and wide.

Earlier this year, plans for the National Juneteenth Museum, to be built in Fort Worth, were discussed at a summit at The University of Texas at Arlington. The event featured retired teacher Opal Lee, the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” who led the charge to make the emancipation celebration a federal holiday. She told the audience that “If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love.”

In keeping with our mission to extend the benefits of knowledge and serve Texans, UT institutions across the state, along with local communities and civic organizations are marking the day with talks, celebrations and volunteer events.

I wanted to highlight things happening in the Austin area this week that UT System employees can take part in.

  1. On Thursday, June 15, the Anti-Defamation League’s Austin chapter will host a webinar with Dr. Peniel E. Joseph of The University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs. Dr. Joseph is the recipient of the 2023 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Book Award for his book The Third Reconstruction. The event will cover the ongoing work to deliver the promise of freedom to all Americans. You can register for the event for free here.
  2. On Saturday, June 17, the Juneteenth Parade and Park Festival will be held in East Austin, ending at Rosewood Park, which will host live music, food and artists and craftspeople. You can learn more here.

Juneteenth is not the memorial of a finished fight, but a call to keep working for equal justice under the law and equal opportunity for all. I hope you will take the day to reflect on that long and continuous journey and the work ahead to ensure that freedom prevails. By learning together and acting together, we help deliver on the promise of Juneteenth.

James B. Milliken