A copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward
Photo by: The Associated Press

Juneteenth—or Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, Emancipation Day—has been marked since June 19, 1866; the first anniversary of General Order No. 3 that Union General Gordon Granger issued on June 19, 1865. The Order conveyed the news of the Emancipation Proclamation to the residents of Galveston, Texas, and freed the last remaining slaves in the state, and therefore the country. Yet it wasn’t until this past Thursday that Juneteenth National Independence Day was declared a federal holiday—the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law on November 2, 1983.

President Joe Biden signs Juneteenth National Independence Day into law, June 17, 2021
Photo by: Jim Watson for Agence France-Presse

Last Tuesday, it was my honor to step in, more or less at the last moment, to moderate a conversation between composer James Lee III and songwriter-performer Wordsmith, who have come together to write and compose a Juneteenth piece called Destined Words. The piece is a commission from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and they co-presented this event with the Enoch Pratt Free Library before the world premiere of Destined Words, which is taking place during a BSO gala presentation tonight at 8:30 PM on Maryland Public Television. You can join in our conversation here.

Also this week, I was in conversation with Sistah Joy Alford, the poet laureate of Prince George’s County, Maryland, about the important role that poetry has played in marking and celebrating Juneteenth. That four-minute interview is here.

Let’s celebrate Juneteenth! Even as we recognize that there’s still a long way to go before true equity.

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