Alaysia Hackett (top left) and others celebrated Juneteenth by raising the flag outside the department's Washington, D.C. headquarters. Photo provided

By: Alaysia Hackett

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas – home, at the time, to 250,000 enslaved Black people – and announced that the Civil War was over, slavery had ended, and Black people everywhere were free.

The raising of the Juneteenth flag is a symbol of solidarity and pride among Black Americans. The flag consists of a star representing freedom; a burst representing a “new beginning;” an arc representing a “new horizon;” and set in the colors of red, white and blue noting that enslaved people and their descendants were and are Americans. By celebrating Juneteenth and raising the flag, we honor the history, culture and achievements of Black Americans and their contributions to this country. 

We honor Juneteenth as a day to celebrate the freedom and dignity of Black Americans who were enslaved for generations. It is also a day to acknowledge the ongoing struggle for racial justice and equality in our nation. 

After the Union army captured New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Confederate states moved to Texas with more than 150,000 enslaved Black people. For three years, even after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Black Americans in Texas remained in harsh bondage, unjustly and illegally denied their freedom and basic rights. On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln declared all enslaved people free, Major General Gordon Granger and Union army troops marched to Galveston to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and free the last enslaved Black Americans in Texas. 

Today, we commemorate Juneteenth as our newest federal holiday, thanks to bipartisan legislation signed by President Biden in 2021. We celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Americans who have fought for liberty and democracy throughout our history. We also recognize the work that remains to be done to fulfill our nation’s promise of equal rights for all. 

At the Department of Labor, we are passionate about empowering the Black community. And we are helping to close the Black wealth gap by fostering a culture of inclusion, enhancing career opportunities, identifying and reducing race-based barriers to department services, and enforcing nondiscrimination policies. 

The department also has three affinity groups focused on supporting Black employees: Black Attorney Advisory Council, Blacks In Government Department of Labor Chapter, and the Divine 9. In collaboration with the department’s diversity and inclusion branch, these employee resource groups work to create a sense of belonging for employees of color at the department and raise awareness to the entire department about the issues and concerns facing the Black community. Over the past year, these affinity groups launched a youth outreach and mentoring program and co-produced the department’s Job Shadow Day in February, specifically geared toward students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

Our nation cannot ignore its most painful history. By acknowledging and understanding the more troubling aspects of our past, we can begin to forge a path toward a more just future. Juneteenth is an opportunity to learn from our history, celebrate our progress, and engage in the work that continues. We pledge to uphold the values of democracy and equality that our nation was founded upon and to ensure that every American can enjoy the full measure of freedom that Juneteenth represents. 

To commemorate Juneteenth, several of our affinity groups, including those mentioned above, are organizing events and leading the charge to bring awareness to important issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. 

The importance of Juneteenth does not only impact the Black community. It is a day for all Americans to reflect on how far we have come as a nation. And it is also a day for us to look at the work we still must do to achieve true freedom and equality for all. 

Please join me in observing this essential day of national commemoration and have a joyful Juneteenth.

Alaysia Black Hackett is the chief diversity and equity officer for the U.S. Department of Labor.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary piece do not necessarily express the opinions of The Cincinnati Herald.

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