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On Juneteenth, we honor the past and act for the future

This Saturday, we will honor Juneteenth, a commemoration of the day when news of the Civil War’s end – and the cessation of chattel slavery in the United States – at last reached enslaved people in Texas. Here in Washington, Juneteenth has been recognized by the state as a momentous anniversary of Black American liberation, and this year, the state legislature took the additional step of designating June 19th as an official state holiday. Last year, I wrote that honoring Juneteenth is just one step in reckoning with and redressing historical and ongoing systemic racism, inequity and injustice. Washington’s growing recognition of this important day is one more sign of progress and a call to action to continue working for substantive and sustained change.

As a University, we remain committed to the ongoing work of fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in every aspect of our academic community and our community at large, both by honoring the past and enacting policies and practices that reflect our values. This Saturday, at 10:00 a.m., we will raise the Pan-African flag at the south end of Memorial Way. I invite everyone to gather as a community to witness this inaugural event. The Pan-African flag, created in 1920 by members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association under the leadership of Marcus Garvey, has become an enduring symbol of the African Diaspora and Black pride and liberation. The flag will also be raised at UW Tacoma and UW Bothell and UW Medicine will raise the Juneteenth flag.

The Pan-African flag flies beneath the American flag
The Pan-African flag flies over the UW campus in Seattle

Juneteenth is an opportunity for all of us to keep expanding our knowledge and understanding of Black history, including the origins of Juneteenth. UW professor emeritus and historian Quintard Taylor has written about it on, describing what occurred in Texas as ”[w]ord of emancipation gradually spread over the vast state despite the efforts of some slaveholders to maintain slavery.” As a community grounded in intellectual curiosity and shared values, let this Juneteenth be a day to both learn from our past and commit to a future that reflects the lessons we take from it. In the sidebar, there are a number of resources, events and programming for anyone looking for more ways to honor Juneteenth and get engaged.

This past year has been a challenging and often painful one. The pandemic that affected all of us was felt even more sharply by those impacted by systemic racism, especially Black communities. Incidents of violence against Black individuals served to mobilize many in our society, but these incidents remain a source of intense pain and suffering that we must acknowledge in order to prevent them from repeating. I believe in our collective ability – both as a University and a broader society – to achieve this transformation. I look forward to continuing this work with our community and even more to the equitable and just world we can achieve, together.

*Updated June 22, 2021