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Celebrate freedom, but continue the fight

June 21, 2021

As the nation paused last weekend to remember and reflect on Juneteenth, observed on June 19, it should remember the holiday is not only a time to celebrate the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, but it also should serve as a reminder that much work is still to be done to ensure freedom and justice for all.

Juneteenth marks the day when troops arrived in Galveston in 1865 to ensure that all enslaved people in Texas were free.

Juneteenth marks the day when troops arrived in Galveston in 1865 to ensure that all enslaved people in Texas were free.

That was the view of a panel of African American women lawyers, judges and social justice advocates who participated in the virtual program “Global Women & Juneteenth: 156 Years On — Reflections on Obstacles to Emancipation,” held June 15 as part of the ABA International Law Section’s three-day “Global Women Series.” Other programs during the conference featured remarks by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and ABA President Patricia Lee Refo.

The ABA Diversity and Inclusion Center also presented a program on June 17, “Honoring the History of Juneteenth: One Family’s Journey to Freedom.”

Juneteenth marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people in Texas were free — two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Juneteenth is worthy of being celebrated because of the symbolism that it stands for, the emancipation of slaves,” said attorney Paulette Brown, the first female Black president of the ABA. “But there are many vestiges of slavery that continue today. And just like we were legislated out of slavery, people are creating legislation to sort of take us back to a time long gone by. … We have to try to repair the damage that has been done and get what is due to us.”

Civil rights attorney Gay McDougall, a member of the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said Juneteenth “is about a promise that has not yet been fulfilled,” noting the murders of George Floyd and other Black people by police officers. “We have to think now of Juneteenth as a time to strengthen our personal commitments to Black liberation, not only in this country but around the world.”

The panelists lauded how African Americans, and particularly African American women, have been on the forefront of social justice movements in the U.S. from the  civil rights struggles to the Black Lives Matter movement. “We stand on the shoulders of strong Black women,” said attorney CK Hoffler, president of the National Bar Association and CEO of The CK Hoffler Firm.

“We must reflect on Juneteenth and celebrate the progress that African Americans have made but with the understanding that the journey has not ended,” said Judge Bernice Donald of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. “We are still on the journey and there are still obstacles in our path.”

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