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(Photo by Nati Harnik/AP)
Sherreta R. Harrison, Guest columnist
Published: 18 June 2024

sherreta r harrison introSherreta R. HarrisonAs a young girl raised in the oldest Black city in Texas, June 19 was regarded as a day of jubilee in my family. Adults were home from work, there was no summer school, and everyone came together to enjoy one another and, of course, food. Like many families, we fired up the barbecue pit, poured up thick red punch in plastic cups, and unabashedly enjoyed that delicious red fruit–a symbol of the sweet freedom first tasted by the newly freed men and women.

Juneteenth, as the day was known, was special not just for Black Texans, but for many Americans with ties to the southern state that had received the news of emancipation two and a half years late. And now that it is a federal holiday, Americans of all races and ethnicities are rewarded with another day off from employment and another opportunity to gather with loved ones.

Juneteenth has joined the ranks of American holidays such as New Year’s and Labor Day. But Juneteenth is more than just another day off.

It is an opportunity to reckon with our past, honor our present, and build a better future for our city, our state and our country.

A Sacred Day of Remembrance

June 19 marks the day that Union soldiers arrived in Texas to enforce the almost three-year-old news that owning people as property was outlawed. While the actual decree did not magically guarantee liberty for all into the state, it did give birth to one of our country’s greatest Freedom stories.

Even after learning that slavery had been abolished, many slaveholders refused to honor the decree for fear of losing their wealth and power. Enslaved people had contributed greatly to slaveholders' success in business, arts and politics. Freedom undoubtedly meant a decline in the quality of life for those who relied on Black Americans for their livelihoods.

As a result, men and women who tried to act on their newly instated right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were often denied their new rights, subjected to violence, or even killed. Still, Black Americans left slave quarters to establish freedmen’s towns, communities that were built and inhabited by formerly enslaved Americans and offered the peace and prosperity that was denied to them by the rest of the country.

Juneteenth reminds us of the men and women who endured terrorism and tyranny daily and still went on to build schools, create masterpieces, establish philanthropy, run for office, fight for our country and in many cases, sacrifice their lives to disrupt a country’s inhumanitarian path and usher in a new regime marked by freedom. It is the day when, at least in theory, all men were free to enjoy the rights that America was founded upon in 1776.

Endurance and Resilience

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the holiday lies in its endurance. Juneteenth started as a celebration in a small community in Texas and has become a national holiday as a result of the story-telling and familial traditions linked to the day. Early versions of Juneteenth included reuniting families over food and games and reading important freedom documents to ensure that the significance of the occasion was not lost on future generations. It was this annual renewing of minds that preserved the collective memories of the atrocities of slavery and provided a testament for future generations to the strength of a people to transform something dark into a beacon of hope.

Today, when our history is threatened by erasure, our communities are being dismantled by systemic disinvestment, and Black lives are being treated as worthless and expendable, Juneteenth can serve as a rallying cry for communal healing and collective action— a revival of sorts of the spirit that built our communities in the first place.

While there are many milestone days worth remembering when it comes to freedom in America, June 19 remains especially significant for its ability to help us learn from our past, acknowledge our present progress, and build a brighter future. It is more than just another occasion for offices to close or an arbitrary date on the calendar. June 19 is a sacred day and should be honored as such.

Like Memorial Day, it should be revered for the men and women who lost their lives and liberties trying to enjoy a more perfect union.

Like the 4th of July, we should celebrate Juneteenth as the day we actually declared that all people are free.

View Portland and Seattle Juneteenth events here: Juneteenth 2024 Events in Portland and Seattle.


Sherreta R. Harrison drives efforts for social, racial and economic equity at MetroMorphosis in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Serving as Chief Executive Catalyst and co-leader, she merges talent development, leadership and community building to foster thriving environments.

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