Today we celebrate Juneteenth and look back at its history, along with sharing some resources to help you learn more about how it came to be designated as a federal holiday. In addition, as we work to amplify Black and African American voices and experiences in recognition of the significance of Juneteenth, we share stories from Black and African American students and students pursuing diversity initiatives while abroad.
Today we celebrate Juneteenth, the longest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Last year, President Joe Biden officially recognized the day as a federal holiday, signing into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. Although this was a significant achievement, it took many years of advocacy from the African American community for this milestone to be reached.
Although only recently decreed a federal holiday, Juneteenth has been celebrated for many years. In fact, it is the longest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It corresponds to June 19, 1865, when news that slavery had been abolished was finally communicated to the last enslaved people living in Texas. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect on January 1, 1863, it only effectively freed enslaved people in the Confederate states in areas liberated by Union troops.
The 13th Amendment was passed in Congress on January 31, 1865, and the South surrendered to the North on April 9, 1865, but it still took two months for this news to be communicated in Texas, where many slaveowners had fled to escape the reach of the Union army. (Texas was the last state in the Confederacy to end institutional slavery.) Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved people living there were now free.
Starting the next year, formerly enslaved people began to celebrate Juneteenth in Galveston. It was celebrated annually on June 19th with picnics and speeches and other commemorative events, first in Texas and then throughout the United States (and around the world) in other Black communities.
The push to make Juneteenth a national holiday was led by Black activists such as Opal Lee (who is known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth), who began her work with a walking campaign, during which she shared the history of the holiday and its importance in the United States. It is difficult for any day to become a federal holiday in the US, but after years of activism, Juneteenth was officially passed into law as a national holiday in 2021.
Today, Juneteenth continues to celebrate Black and African American freedom, empowerment, and achievement. To learn more about Juneteenth and its history, check out these resources:
"So You Want to Learn About Juneteenth" | New York Times
(Video) NAACP president discusses historic Juneteenth holiday | Good Morning America
The Juneteenth Reading List | Penguin Random House
Student Stories from Abroad
Hear also from CAPA alumni on their experiences studying abroad as Black and African American students and/or as students pursuing diversity initiatives while abroad:
Lauren Ehrmann, Indiana University, Florence, Italy
In this blog post, Diversity Advocate Scholar Lauren shares some of her research on the intersections of cultural heritage and immigration in Florence. She discusses Black history as celebrated in Florence, as well as the Black Archive Alliance, a series of exhibitions which educate visitors on the long history of African migration to Italy.
Caption: Protagonists of the 2018 BHMF.
"The Black Archive Alliance was created by Villa Romana (part of the Cantiere Toscana project) in collaboration with BHMF. It was a series of mini-exhibitions and tours in private and public archives in the city of Florence which took place over two days. The objective was to highlight holdings in the archives of Florence related to Africa and the African diaspora. Thompson explained that the overall goal was to get everyday people into the archive, encourage scholarship in under-researched areas, and to combat historical amnesia. This last goal is specifically related to combating the narrative of current migration to Italy as an exclusively contemporary phenomenon by highlighting the long history of African migration to Italy (Thompson)."
Imani Wilson, Hood College, CAPA Shanghai
Imani writes about her experience integrating as an African American in Shanghai and finding a home away from home. She gives us an honest look at her challenges and successes, and shares how attending the Black Expo in Shanghai came at the right time during her study abroad journey.
Imani had a chance to meet American graduate student Angelique Evans, founder of the Black Butterfly Initiative. Imani writes of Angelique:
"She is the founder of the Black Butterfly Initiative, which is a project to encourage African Americans to experience a life outside of the United States. However the project is so much more than what can be summed up in one sentence. Asking her about her goals for the project, she responded, 'My goal for this project is to create a safe space for African American students and their families to be encouraged, educated, and actually experience life abroad. I want to create a community where students, and current and future expatriates can live, learn, and navigate a new country, culture, and language.' I would agree with her in saying that support is needed before, during, and after the time abroad; also, that it’s very important to have a community to help you through everything such as 'culture shock, bad grades on exams, celebrating US holidays, or providing trips to join during holidays.'”
Mariah Thomas, SUNY Purchase College, CAPA London
Mariah shares some of her observations about London and its diversity, the areas that celebrated it and what reminded her of home, and the cultural differences she noticed.
Caption: Capturing a moment with the Tower Bridge in the background.
"As an African-American, I didn’t feel out of place. At my internship, I did notice that the company had mostly white males, yet the people around me did not take notice to the disfigured numbers. I did notice that like the States, there were more communities that catered to different races.
When I went to Brixton, there was a part where it was predominantly those of Caribbean and Latino descent. I also found myself in Chinatown, which was a very vibrant and populated area. The area where the CAPA students stayed in Shepherd’s Bush was also very diverse and was surrounded by an array of shops. Shepherd’s Bush reminded me of my neighborhood and Piccadilly Square reminded me of Manhattan. Everything was similar to me and I was able to compare the different areas to my own back at home in Brooklyn, NY."
Maya Crawford, University of Massachusetts Lowell, CAPA Barcelona
Maya sheds light on the reality of being a minority in Barcelona and shares her views on living in a country with a completely different language. She also opens up about her identity as a black woman and contrasts her living experience in Boston to her semester abroad.
Caption: Maya on a field trip to the bunkers in Barcelona.
"Studying abroad has really given me a chance to reflect on who I am as a person, and what I identify myself as. I am an American black woman from the inner city of Boston, my only fluent language is English, and I am currently working on my Spanish. These traits made me incredibly different from the population of Barcelona. When signing up for study abroad, I expected a lot more diversity than what is really here. I thought it would be a bit like England, where there is a mix of many different looking people. I was very, very wrong. Majority of Barcelona is white, there are little to no black people which made me a big minority, which I am not used to."
CAPA continues to do the necessary work to increase diversity, access, and inclusion in international education and to provide students a framework to explore, challenge, and redefine their identities in distinct ways. We recognize that the intentional work required is never complete. We invite you to learn more.