Juneteenth: Celebrating freedom, honoring those who fought for equality

By Rachel PonderJune 17, 2024

(Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Christian Silvera, Joint Base Charleston) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Juneteenth is known as America’s “second” Independence Day because it commemorates the end of slavery in America. The holiday also represents the beginning of the fulfillment of America’s promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for Black Americans.

President Abraham Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” However, Texas resisted the Emancipation Proclamation for more than two years.

On June 19, 1865, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and free the last enslaved Americans in Texas from bondage. This day became known as “Juneteenth”, or “Jubilee Day,” “Freedom Day,” or “Emancipation Day.”

Juneteenth is considered the longest-running Black American holiday. Over the years and through successive waves of migration, Juneteenth celebrations spread to the rest of Texas and eventually the country at large.

The Juneteenth Day of Observance officially became the 11th federal holiday in 2021 and is the first new federal holiday since the recognition of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 1983.

“Juneteenth represents not only the commemoration of the end of slavery in America more than 150 years ago, but the ongoing work to bring true equity and racial justice into American society,” said U.S. President Joseph R. Biden before the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17, 2021.

APG Soldiers, civilians advocate for equality in Harford County 

Juneteenth is an integral part of Army life. It is a time to reflect on the crucial role the Army played in the Emancipation Proclamation and ending segregation in the U.S.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which ended segregation in the military. This order marked a significant moment in the civil rights movement. It was also one of the first instances where a U.S. president used an executive order to implement a civil rights policy.

Locally, APG Soldiers and civilians were instrumental in the desegregation of Harford County by leading efforts to desegregate local restaurants, facilitate school integration, and advocate for fair and open housing in the 1960s, said Patricia D. Cole, President of the Havre de Grace Colored School Museum and Cultural Center, Inc.

These efforts included peaceful protests, speeches, and involvement in lawsuits. For example, Cole said many Soldiers and civilians were involved in the Route 40 protests, advocating for the desegregation of restaurants and other public accommodations.

In the 1960s, George S. Pettit, an APG scientist, filed a lawsuit to enable his son A. Dwight Pettit to attend Aberdeen High School. After a two-year legal battle, the Pettit family won the lawsuit, allowing A. Dwight Pettit to attend Aberdeen High School instead of Havre de Grace Consolidated, a segregated school for Black students. Today, A. Dwight Pettit is a prominent Baltimore lawyer.

Cole said in 1961, APG leaders facilitated meetings between local restaurant owners and civil rights leaders to advocate for removing racial exclusions in restaurants along Route 40.

“This effort was crucial as Black Vietnam veterans returning home faced significant challenges in finding housing off the post,” Cole said.

This Juneteenth, take time to reflect on what it means to be free, celebrate the resiliency of Black Americans, and honor those who fought and sacrificed to ensure the Constitution fulfilled its promise to all Americans.