Juneteenth: A Holiday for All

June 19, 2023

The Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal,” but the nascent, exemplary nation that it brought into the world struggled to live up to its promise. 

For most of the next century, Americans were divided on the central question of our nation’s own original sin. Slavery predated the founding of our union, but it also lived on past its founding. By the 1860s, war had become inevitable, and the fight over slavery literally tore the union in two. 

Even after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, slavery continued. It wasn’t until some 2,000 Union troops arrived at Galveston Bay, Texas—on this very day, June 19, in 1865, two months after Gen. Rober E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, that legalized, institutionalized slavery came to an end in the United States. Those troops, both White and Black, proclaimed the news that Texas’ 250,000 enslaved black people were finally free. 

America, too, was free at last. 

No, our nation was not yet cured. We are still a work in progress. But, look how far we’ve come. 

In the 50 years since I graduated from the Air Force Academy, an Idaho farm boy ready to take to the skies, I’ve witnessed growth and change for the better all across our country. I went to war in 1991 with a team of individuals whose skin may have been white and brown but all of whom bled Air Force blue. We were—and are—brothers still, our bonds forged in the fire of combat and the spirit of brotherhood. 

Some might see this day as a holiday for Black Americans, their private Independence Day. I understand that, of course, but respectfully disagree. “Juneteenth” is an American holiday, a day we can all celebrate as one, a day when our nation was, quite literally, born again, reunited, and free of the sting and stains of legal slavery. 

A few weeks ago, as President Biden announced that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. was his choice to become the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was flanked by a Black Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin III, and a Black Vice President, Kamala Harris on one side, and Gen. Brown on the other. Black troops have fought in every American war since before the Revolution. But it is only in the past 50 years that they have served at the highest levels of our national defense.

Our work is still far from done. Racial division, misunderstanding, disinformation, and recriminations persist. Too many people still judge people on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. But we are moving in the right direction, and doing so together. Let’s keep shaping this great monument to freedom, this land we call America.

Bruce A. Wright

Bruce “Orville” Wright

AFA President & CEO