The League of Women Voters of Virginia formally celebrates and acknowledges June 19th as Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day– the oldest-known annual celebration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when the news finally reached African Americans in Gavelston, Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves living in Confederate states two years earlier. When Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to bring the news that slavery had been abolished, former slaves celebrated, and thus Juneteenth was born.
Earlier this week, Governor Ralph Northam proposed making Juneteenth an official state holiday beginning this year. We acknowledge our state’s confederate history and current climate of systemic injustice and discrimination. It is therefore vital we elevate awareness of this important piece of African American history as we continue to come to terms with the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless other black lives lost to anti-blackness and racial violence in America.
As we pay tribute today, we acknowledge the many roles and contributions of the African American spirit to the League and generally to our society, the countless supporters, organizers, and attendees of Juneteenth celebrations hosted all across this nation and beyond. You are writing the history of our country and our world – there can be no greater honor than that. We thank you.
As an organization whose mission is to empower voters, encourage political responsibility and defend democracy, we stand in solidarity with Black communities. and support protesters across our country who are currently fighting for widespread police reform in response to the pandemic of disproportionate police brutality on black and brown communities. We stand behind the demand for increased funding of healthcare, education, and housing in such communities. The League will show our solidarity, not only by speaking out against racism in all forms, but by doing the work and advocacy required of us to be anti-racist.
Today is a day for celebration, education, and correction. We will take it as such, and ask all members to do the same. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we begin to effect significant and lasting improvements in our society. Examine how you can be an ally on this day. The voting rights advocacy community must not stay silent in the face of systemic injustice. We must act and speak in solidarity with the Black community and the movement for Black Lives. Fighting for an educated, just future for all Americans includes speaking up for a just, nondiscriminatory, participatory democracy without system race-based outcomes and violence. Being silent is not an option. Black lives matter today, and every day. Happy Juneteenth.
We thank Amir Methvin, LWV-VA intern and member, for her invaluable contribution in writing this statement.