Juneteenth and the Unfinished Journey to Freedom

Written: June 19, 2020
Last Updated: June 22, 2020

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Dear W&J Community,

On this day 155 years ago, 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and a proclamation that “all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and property rights between former masters and slaves. . . .” The moment marked the end of slavery in America, as 250,000 people were liberated in a single day that is still celebrated as Juneteenth.

Sometimes called American’s second Independence Day, Juneteenth commemorates a milestone toward realizing the promise of our national creed that all people are created equal with unalienable rights. Yet the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless other black Americans over four centuries remind us of the urgent need to complete the journey to the “absolute equality” announced on June 19, 1865.

I am pleased that public awareness and understanding of Juneteenth has been elevated in recent days, and it is my hope that each of us at W&J will take time today and this weekend to reflect on our individual responsibilities for ensuring that black lives truly matter and have every opportunity to benefit from the full blessings of freedom and equality promised at our nation’s founding.

As we look to the future together, I pledge to work with our student leaders and others to make this a more important day on our college calendar. Few people are on campus in June, but one can imagine many opportunities for learning and action aimed at furthering the movement for justice and equality.

Washington & Jefferson College should be a model of what we hope for in the world, a place where all people can reach their full potential unfettered by racism and injustice. As we approach the start of another academic year, let us recommit ourselves to courageously working to make this vision a reality.

With gratitude for each of you,

John

John C. Knapp, Ph.D.
President and Professor

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