Juneteenth 19, 2022 The Newest Federal Holiday

Angie Ybarra, Writer

I have lost track of how many legal holidays there are. Do you know how many we celebrate? In fact, I bet it is even hard for you to recall the first federal holiday that was observed. Do you know which president signed Martin Luther King Jr. Day into law as a federal holiday? What may seem like an unlikely person to introduce this into law was President Ronald Regan some 39 years ago in 1983. It might also surprise you that Congress just last year passed legislation that made Juneteenth a federal holiday. The holiday commemorates the end of slavery in Texas in 1865. I would like you to think about that, it was actually two years after slaves were freed before slavery in Texas ended. The war and the postal service – and how poorly it worked in Texas – were the given reasons for the delay in Texas recognizing the law. It was President Joseph R. Biden (President 46) on June 17, 2021, who signed the bill into law making June 19 Juneenteenth the newest federal holiday.


President Abraham Lincoln (President 16) issued a presidential proclamation that called for the freeing of slaves. In the year 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves.  “…I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves …are henceforward shall be free…”. Those words were to change the face of the United States forever. Just like the celebration of July 4th and the way that date is celebrated and commemorates America’s Independence, Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom from oppression.


I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Arrisa Wesley-Cavin, a Program Supervisor of the 2Gen Program. Ms. Wesley-Cavin works in partnership with the Chicago Housing Authority. It is a relatively new program and serves predominantly black and brown communities. The individuals in the program set goals and help participants to reach them through support, and proper planning, Ms. Wesley mentors and coaches these individuals. In conversations with Ms. Wesley, I had an opportunity to explore the meaning of Juneteenth and its significance. Through a series of questions, I was able to establish a new appreciation for what our newest holiday represents and just how much we should respect the day and the diversity of our country. Here is a glimpse of what Juneteenth means to someone who will be celebrating the day.


Ybarra: Thank you Ms. Winsley-Cavin for taking the time to speak with me about the significance of Juneteenth. I wanted to start with what I feel is one of the most important questions I have for you and that is: What does Juneteenth mean to you?


Winsley-Cavin: Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the end of slavery. A day to celebrate that on that day our people were somewhat free.


Ybarra: How do you plan to celebrate?


Winsley-Cavin: A BBQ with family and friends, also a small showcase of fireworks.


Ybarra: What is the explanation you give to others about the holiday?


Winsley-Cavin: It’s a day to celebrate African/Americans/blacks being as close to our freedom as we will possibly ever get.


Ybarra: Do you have children, if so how do you explain the holiday to them?


Winsley-Cavin: Yes I do have children. I haven’t really explained it in detail with them yet.


Ybarra: The holiday is centered around Texas and its end of slavery, given the current political atmosphere that exists today do you feel that Texas as a whole understands the meaning of the holiday?


Winsley-Cavin: No, because we as a people still aren’t free.


Ybarra: Will you still celebrate the 4th of July?


Winsley-Cavin: In a small capacity, because it’s an opportunity to celebrate our nation’s freedom.


June 19 is the United States of America’s newest federal holiday and it is a symbol of justice, equality, hope, progress, struggle, courage, civil rights, advocacy, and the American dream of freedom for all. Happy Juneteenth especially to all who recognize the day as a holiday.