Campus Bulletin: Current Students, Faculty and Staff, Parents, Presidential Initiative

Presidential Initiative Statement on Juneteenth

June 11, 2021 2:45 PM

Meredith Gadsby and Bill Quillen, Co-Chairs, Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity

Black people in America have always had a dichotomous relationship with this country. They have a dedication and love for it and its stated ideals, contrasted by a history and a present that often excludes Black people from its promises. In fact, Black people can rightly claim that their commitment to this country is built upon their hopes and work to ensure that the United States lives up to the very principles upon which it was founded.

When Fredrick Douglass posed his question on July 5, 1852, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July,” he was pointing out the very contradiction that is inherent in the Black experience in America. On the 4th of July, we celebrate the freedom of this country from England, while Black citizens, although not fully recognized as such for much of this countries’ history, do not feel fully free. 

Douglass’ illumination of this complicated relationship is reflected in Juneteenth celebrations themselves. African Americans initiated Juneteenth to mark Black people’s receipt of the official word that enslaved people were released from bondage. This news was gradually shared across the United States and reached Galveston, Texas, three years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

On the first Juneteenth, the official proclamation read as follows.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

President Ambar shared her thoughts on the importance of Juneteenth in a 2020 video:

Juneteenth has grown in scope and breadth over the years and is now celebrated widely across the country, including on our campus and more broadly in the town of Oberlin. These celebrations exemplify a commitment to celebrate, in moments of pure joy, Black people’s right to live as free human beings. Despite the ongoing challenges of a nation still wrestling with a recognition of this right, Juneteenth allows African Americans to reflect on the resilience of their ancestors, even as they take up the charge, as Americans, to maintain a sustained conviction to equity and social justice.

We are proud at the College to be in partnership with the city of Oberlin’s Juneteenth Committee, to offer a full week of in-person celebrations to commemorate Juneteenth 2021.

Friday, June 18

3:30–7 p.m.

ABUSUA Juneteenth Block Party | Tappan Square

Games and music
Catering from two Black owned restaurants

8 p.m.

Light in the Tunnel: Reflections on Freedom | Wurtzel Theater 

Justin Emeka and Cyril Amanfo
Music, dance, spoken word, and other performances 

Saturday, June 19th 

9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Oberlin City Juneteenth Celebration | Tappan Square

Parade at noon

3–7 p.m.

Lorain County Juneteenth Bluesfest | Lakeview Park in Lorain 

Shuttles provided by Bonner Center. Bonner contact: Tania Boster

6:30–7:30 p.m.

Maafa Ceremony and Potter’s Field Memorial Service | Westwood Cemetery

7:30 p.m.

Westwood Cemetery Flower Ceremony | Westwood Cemetery

We are so excited to be able to meet in person! Please come out and celebrate with us! A detailed list of events is available on our Juneteenth website.

In Solidarity, 

Meredith Gadsby
Special Assistant to the President on Racial Equity and Diversity
Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Comparative American Studies
Cochair of Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity

Bill Quillen
Dean of the Conservatory
Cochair of Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity