A message from President Woodrow Keown on Juneteenth
Today, I had the privilege of joining an illustrious group on the steps of City Hall to raise the Juneteenth flag for the second time in Cincinnati and for the first time as a national holiday. I’d like to share with you my remarks from today’s event.
“What a difference a year makes? Correction. What a difference a day makes! Wednesday, we were preparing to celebrate Juneteenth Day. Today, we commemorate and celebrate Juneteenth National Independence Day, the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Good morning and thank you all for being here. I want to thank Councilmembers Lemon- Kearney and Landsman and Assistant City Manager Long. I especially want to thank Ms. Lydia Morgan and so many others, like Chris Miller, our senior director of education and community engagement, for their leadership and perseverance in bringing us to this critical moment in history. I’m honored to be here sharing the dais with this distinguished group of leaders and freedom advocates.
While Texas became the first state in the nation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980, African Americans have commemorated this date for 155 years. It has been a day to celebrate freedom, to acknowledge equality for African Americans. But on May 25, 2020, we were reminded that our true freedom was not secured on June 19, 1865. The video-captured murder of George Floyd ignited a global racial reckoning. It became another catalyst for change, inspiring our nation to demand the justice, dignity, and freedom that the Black community was promised on Juneteenth.
It’s critical that we use this day to rededicate ourselves to freedom, to realize the dream of dignity and equity. Juneteenth’s importance stretches far beyond our nation’s borders. It is celebrated by organizations in many countries as a day to recognize the end of slavery and to celebrate the culture and achievements of African Americans. And to offer hope for those still unfree.
As with the arc of the moral universe, this timeline, from 1619 to the day we are truly free, is long, but it too bends toward justice. Dr. King knew that the journey to justice, equality, and inclusion was long and must be traveled one mile at a time. So let’s celebrate this historic mile marker. But let’s not fall asleep at the wheel or take our eyes off the prize.
The signs along the road ahead are raising important questions for each of us and our society to navigate:
What does freedom really mean?
How long will injustice and inequity be the reality in America?
What can I do to make change?
Will we let the voices of a few deny people of color the constitutional right to vote?
Will we allow laws to be passed to prevent our youth from learning the truth about racism in our nation’s history?
Friends, let’s commemorate and celebrate this weekend. But, looking ahead, we must also educate, engage, inform and inspire, bring our community together and build a better, more equitable and inclusive future for all.
Woodrow Keown, Jr.
President & COO
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center