Team Hickam Celebrates Juneteenth

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zoie Cox
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs

Juneteenth is a federal holiday celebrated on June 19th to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, on June 17th, 2021, President Joe Biden officially signed Juneteenth into law as a federal holiday.

“Juneteenth is a holiday that represents freedom and liberation, both from physical and intellectual bondage,” said Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Thompson Jr., 15th Wing command chief. “It marks a place in history when African Americans could pursue their dreams and goals, making a better life for themselves and their posterity.”

On September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation declared “all persons held as slaves within any States, or designated part of the State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” This went into effect January 1st, 1863. Although it might seem as though all slaves were free, they were not. It took more than two years for the word to travel that all slaves had been freed. The Union Soldiers made their way to Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865. This was the day that Texas residents learned slavery had been abolished. President Lincoln advised former enslaved people to reside in their present homes and work to receive pay. However, most freed people did not want to stay with the same individuals who enslaved them. Lots of former enslaved people fled the state to find family members or more welcoming accommodations in northern regions. This was known as The Scatter.

“Growing up, Juneteenth was just another page in a history book,” said Staff Sgt Camryn Heard, 15th Operational Support System aviation resource manager. “The true importance behind it was never really taught in school. The best thing anyone can do is educate themselves and those around them on the importance of this holiday and how deep the roots really run.”

Despite the word reaching Texas, there were a lot of Texas slave owners that did not want to part with what they considered their property. Many freed people were beaten, lynched or murdered when trying to leave. Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery, it did make a difference.

“As with any potentially sensitive subject, I approach the discussion of racial injustice and Juneteenth with dignity, respect, and a heart to inform and educate,” said Thompson. “I seek to educate and shed light on the matter to help others understand and gain empathy through their understanding.”

Federal troops expanded the domain of freedom as the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy. June 19th, 1866, the first official celebration of Juneteenth, was held in Texas. The day then went on to be a state holiday for Texas in 1980. More states continued to follow in their footsteps. By the end of the Civil War, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and for freedom.

“Freedom is not free,” said Thompson. “You must fight to earn it and fight to keep it. Countless men and women of all ethnic backgrounds fought and died to give us the freedoms we experience now, and it is our responsibility to continue fighting the good fight so that we maintain and increase those freedoms for every ethnic, educational and economical background.”