On June 19, 1865, Texan slaves found out they were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, two and a half years after it was issued by President Abraham Lincoln. Since then, annual celebrations of the emancipation have been referred to as Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States and honoring African American freedom and liberation.
As we have for years, we celebrate Juneteenth through food, prayer and festivities honoring a rich tradition that continues to promote education and self-improvement. We’ve seen this holiday take root within communities and organizations throughout the country, taking on a national and even global presence with a mission to promote African American culture and respect for all cultures.
But as we continue to cultivate knowledge and appreciation of our history and reflect upon the monumental challenges that our ancestors faced in fighting for freedom from bondage, we must also consider the ways in which the Black community continues to be under the threat of hate, xenophobia, and bigotry.
The NAACP stands at a significant moment in time when racial subordination and racial hierarchy is being reinforced at the highest level of leadership in this country. The recent accounts of domestic terrorism at black churches, images of Blackface populating the airwaves, the increase in hate crimes, and Black lives senselessly taken at the hands of over policing and brutality, shows that we are living in a world that often devalues us as people who have the right to live freely.
However, what we saw during the historic wave of grassroots activism that swept across the country during the 2018 midterms — with women and people of color leading the way — was an overwhelming rebuke of these heinous acts, and a show of support for an America with a bold, forward-looking and inclusive vision.
As the nation’s foremost civil rights organization, the NAACP has been a leader in the struggle to improve the lives of Black people in America. However, the historic importance and impending impact of the 2018 midterm elections, have propelled us to bring our activist roots to the forefront.
Many diverse groups, including NAACP units throughout the country, are rising up to advocate for policies that ensure that we empower communities of color to make our voices heard and implement effective strategies to address the growing impact of the rise of white nationalism and emboldened racial rhetoric.
As we celebrate Black liberation, let us continue to unite and fight together to confront the challenges we face today.
Johnson is president and CEO of the NAACP.