By Chauncy Whaley | June 19, 2022
Juneteenth is, first and foremost, a day to celebrate. Today, we commemorate the freedom of enslaved people, which was granted through the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
With this news, it was decided that the Union Army was responsible for enforcing the proclamation in formerly-Confederate states. Slave owners in Texas successfully kept this news from enslaved people in the state until June 19, 1865, two years later, when the Union Army finally delivered the message.
It’s important that we recognize, still today, the institutional bias and discrimination in who receives what information and when.
In 1863, Black people were left behind by a government that failed to inform them of their rights as free Americans. Today, we’re too often left behind by institutions that fail to inform us of the information we need to be able to simply cast a ballot and make our voices heard in the democracy we deserve an equal say in.
Our votes are our voices. Are we proclaiming loudly enough the importance of voting to the masses, and educating them on their voting rights? It’s essential that we continue enforcing, expanding, and protecting all our freedoms, starting with our voting rights.
We need to use the bullhorn to uplift the power of voting because, just like the Union forces, we have the power to use our voices to create a more perfect union for all.
After Juneteenth, we entered the Reconstruction Era, a period of progress for the African American community. During that period, 16 African Americans were elected to the United State Congress and more than 600 were elected to state legislatures throughout this country, due to the growing share of Black voters.
Only with equal voting access can the American people today elect officials who will use their voices to defend and champion our causes. Voting is the key that opens the pathway for progress on the issues we care about, and it will keep Florida politicians who want to strip away our civil rights out of office.
So, as we celebrate Juneteenth today, we must remember our history. As we reflect, we must prepare the people to move forward beyond today by utilizing the ballot.
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Chauncy Whaley is a student at Edward Waters University and a Democracy Fellow with the Fair Elections Centers’ Campus Vote Project, currently residing in Jacksonville, Florida.