Reflections on Juneteenth 2020

Juneteenth Freedom Day Graphic

Dear Members of the CUNY SPS Community:

Tomorrow is Juneteenth, an annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in America. This year, the observance takes on even more relevance amid the growing nationwide movement against police brutality and racism, and the brutal killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and, most recently, Rayshard Brooks. It is more crucial than ever to honor the connection between our past and present, and to that end, please see the notice from Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriguez announcing June 19, 2020 as a CUNY-wide holiday, including a link to the Board of Trustees’ resolution. CUNY SPS, and all CUNY schools, will be closed tomorrow. 

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Cel-Liberation Day, is celebrated annually on June 19th to mark the day in 1865 when Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and read a federal order to the public announcing that all enslaved people were now free. (All slaves had technically been freed since Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but it took more than 2 years for Union troops to make it out to this remote Confederate state to enforce the order.) Starting in 1866, this holiday has been informally celebrated around the country with a variety of outdoor events, including parades, barbecues, street fairs, public readings, traditional songs, and other activities. 

Underlying these joyous celebrations, however, is a dark truth. Juneteenth is the only American holiday that specifically acknowledges the brutal institution that so much of our country was built upon: slavery. 155 years later, its wounds have not yet healed.

Juneteenth serves to remind and ask us all to recognize this ugly legacy. Remarkably, in just a few short weeks, we are seeing a sea change following the mass outpouring of grief and outrage that led millions of Americans and people worldwide onto the streets in protest. And we are just starting to see the results of this collective action. From police reforms, to the removal of Confederate statues, to the resignations of CEOs accused of racism, to even NASCAR prohibiting the Confederate flag at its events, change is everywhere. This wave even includes a more formal observance of Juneteenth—a number of companies, including Twitter, Nike, and Vox Media, have just made it a paid holiday for their employees.  

More than ever, I am deeply proud to be a part of an historic institution that seeks to right the wrongs of inequity by providing access and opportunity to all through education. And while we at CUNY SPS cannot gather together to honor Juneteenth due to COVID-19, I urge everyone to join me in taking some time to reflect upon the significance of this day. 


Dean John Mogulescu

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