Known also as African American Independence Day, Jubilee Day, or Freedom Day, Juneteenth is a celebration of the emancipation of enslaved Black people in America.
No matter the preferred name, June 19 is a time for the nation to reflect on the shameful and enduring legacy of slavery in this country.
Dating back to the Civil War, Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, Texas, the end of slavery in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. An announcement that came more than two years later.
While the announcement launched an instant celebration, it wasn’t until more than 100 years later that Juneteenth became a Texas state holiday. In the decades since, nearly every state officially commemorates Juneteenth. In 2021, President Joe Biden has declared Juneteenth a federal holiday—the first new federal holiday created since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983.
This year, Juneteenth celebrations are taking place as the country begins to recover from a global pandemic. June is also National Vaccine Month of Action. The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionality affected Black Americans on both sides of the equation. Higher numbers of Black community members are among our sick, dead, and economically devastated; and that same community continues to serve in higher numbers as key essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic.
During the month of action, volunteers and national service members are working alongside community organizations, national groups, and federal partners to help underserved and hard-to-reach communities receive at least the first of two vaccines by July 4. As part of this nationwide initiative, the American public is being offered as much assistance as possible to get vaccinations—child care for parents and caregivers, extended pharmacy hours, and free shared ride services—and incentives like discounts for grocery purchases, free treats from several national restaurants, and even opportunities to win tickets to your favorite pro sports.
AmeriCorps members are front and center in helping get America vaccinated. Members in the VISTA program are serving at Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation. They are coordinating volunteers and community healthcare agencies to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts as part of Selma’s inaugural Juneteenth Freedom Fest on June 19. AmeriCorps members also are instrumental in conducting health consultations where attendees can learn about HIV screening, substance abuse support, and vaccinations. Across the country, members contribute their time and talents to support similar community programs.
Atlanta’s Center for Black Women’s Wellness is a community health-based organization whose AmeriCorps members ensure women and families have access to quality healthcare.
“It gives me encouragement that there is such dedication to the health of Black women and wellness of Black women,” said AmeriCorps member, Alyssa who is serving in the VISTA program.
Those wearing the AmeriCorps’ ‘A’ know their work is far from done. They also know that national service continues to help build communities back stronger than before—and can help us break down barriers by working together. For good.