Dear campus community,
Yesterday President Joseph Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. By creating this federal holiday, the United States government marks an important milestone in the protracted struggle for national accountability for the institution of slavery and its afterlife.
The date June 19, 1865 brought the Emancipation Proclamation full circle. Issued by President Lincoln on September 22, 1862, the proclamation emancipated enslaved Black people in states in rebellion against the government of the United States. Until the Union prevailed, the enforcement of the proclamation did not reach Galveston, Texas for nearly three more years until 1865. Then, Union Army General Gordon Granger proclaimed slaves free in the name of the federal government.
Historically, Juneteenth served as an occasion for Black people to celebrate their freedom while bearing witness to 250 years of enslavement in north America and the United States. It was different from Independence Day, which Congress mandated as a federal holiday in 1870. The Fourth of July holiday observed the political independence of the United States from the British Empire in 1776. This revolution did not end the institution of slavery but, rather, institutionalized it.
As I wrote last year, the end of slavery in 1865 did not mean the end of anti-Blackness. For another hundred years, Black Americans were subjected to state sanctioned and federally tolerated injustice; known as the era of Jim Crow. Their citizenship status in the south or north or west did not protect them from violations of their civil rights or voting rights. It is for this reason that civil rights activist John Lewis declared at the 1963 March on Washington that Black Americans were not free. In this context Juneteenth served as a powerful space for Black communities to draw strength to fight for racial justice in spite of and because of racist violence and intimation as well as indifference to the structures and practices of white supremacy.
Today, as in the past, the tension between Independence Day and Juneteenth poses an important question for us: how do we as individuals and as members of this community commemorate the end of slavery and its afterlife? This is a question that the country has avoided for 156 years until now.
An important starting point is the UCI Black Thriving Initiative. Launched nearly a year ago, it recognizes and responds to anti-Blackness as an existential threat to our mission as a great public research university. At the core of this whole university response to systemic racism are three key calls to action: change the culture by confronting anti-Blackness, advance understanding about the Black experience and the drivers of well-being, and link UCI’s future to the success of Black communities. To learn more BTI and Juneteenth commemorations across the country, please visit the UCI Black Thriving Initiative website.
Douglas M. Haynes, Ph.D. (Pronouns: he/him/his)
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Chief Diversity Officer
Director, ADVANCE Program
Professor of History