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Juneteenth

On Wednesday, June 17, 2020, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued an Executive Order recognizing Juneteenth (June 19) as a holiday for State employees, in recognition of the official emancipation of African Americans throughout the United States. The Governor will also advance legislation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday, starting in 2021.
military orders freeing slaves

For many people, history is a look back at how our nation and the world have evolved over time. History is often defined by dates, as well as events; taken together, these provide a view of change.

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, is the commemoration of a date and a principle at the core of our society - freedom. While not as well-known as other historic dates, Juneteenth memorializes a basic right that all should enjoy and the struggle for equality.

In 1866, one year after the end of the Civil War, six all-black cavalry and infantry regiments were created after Congress passed the Army Organization Act. Buffalo soldiers, as they were known, were African American soldiers who mainly served on the Western frontier. Their duties included protecting citizens and transportation systems, such as railroads and wagon trains, and stagecoaches, fighting wildfires, and protecting national parks. Despite blatant racism and brutal weather conditions, Buffalo Soldiers earned a reputation for serving courageously and are remembered for their heroism in the Battle of San Juan Hill and other battles in the Spanish-American War (1898).

However, these brave soldiers failed to reap the rewards and benefits of other "free" Americans because of racial inequity. Many consider the Civil War to be the key turning point for freedom for all Americans-the end of slavery in America. However, although President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation a full two and a half years before the end of the war, it wasn't until the war ended that slaves in Texas were informed that they were free. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free.

Despite emancipation, the quest for freedom, justice, and equal rights was not over. It would continue for nearly a full century, finally being codified in law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The Act provided a guarantee that discrimination was now illegal. Many schools were finally integrated, and employment discrimination became unlawful. Yet, even as laws changed, as we have seen recently, we still have far to go.

Juneteenth is a day of remembrance and a call to action. The parades, performances, and family gatherings serve as a reminder that we must be united moving forward, ready to take on the hate that has no place in our state or nation.
Juneteenth is also a time for reflection - as individuals and as a nation. We can look back at our past to gain strength that will lead us forward, carrying the basic ideals of freedom and equality for all.


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