Juneteenth: the fierce urgency of now

Happy Freedom Day!

I’m Candace Daymond, and I’m excited to introduce myself as BRYC’s new Community Relations Manager. This will be the first of many opportunities to connect with you, and I’m overjoyed to begin with a discussion of one of my favorite holidays—Juneteenth!

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that slaves in Confederate States “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Unfortunately, the proclamation could not be implemented in areas still under Confederate control. In Texas, the westernmost Confederate state, freedom finally came on June 19, 1865 — a full two and a half years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — when 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas and enforced the decree. The 250,000 newly-freed Texans dubbed the day “Juneteenth,” recognizing the liberation of African Americans.

The 155th anniversary of Juneteenth began thirty minutes after the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board unanimously voted to change the name of Lee High School, eliminating its dedication to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. During the discussion that led to the vote, community members noted that a strong push to change the name happened in 2016. Among its leaders were BRYC College Fellow Tyari Heard, now a rising senior at the University of Chicago, and our Director of Community, Josh Howard. Their and others’ efforts were derailed, leaving students and community members to wait a full four years for the justice and healing they sought. “Finally,” many exclaimed, citing the name’s 63-year tenure and long fight to change it. As the clock struck midnight, I immediately thought of the historical significance of Juneteenth, the pain of waiting, and the action required for transformative change.

Juneteenth reminds us that words and proclamations set precedents for progress, but action drives real social change. Fighting for justice often meets delays that force marginalized groups to continue waiting for basic rights already long overdue. Juneteenth spotlights the “fierce urgency of now,” which has never rung more clearly than in our current moment. Right now, freedom fighters across the country and world continue to dismantle oppressive systems, invigorated by the hope that people of color will have a different experience in this nation. How long must we wait? We must resist attempts to delay progress in our struggle for liberation. The time for change is now.

Let us march on ‘til victory is won,

Candace Daymond