Dr. Tomarra Adams: Reflections about Juneteenth

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In reflecting on the Juneteenth holiday, I experienced myriad emotions. First, I remain in awe of the people who risked their lives and those of their loved ones in pursuit of freedom and liberation. At its foundation, that is the reason we have the holiday—to recognize Black Americans and the end of legalized slavery in this country. But I am also saddened that it took a racial reckoning, more specifically, the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubrey and George Floyd, for Americans at large to have any awareness of the holiday.
In our country’s attempt to build inclusivity and belonging, Juneteenth became a federally recognized holiday in 2001. It was met with both celebration and resistance—and those twin reactions to Black history unfortunately still exist today. 
I didn’t know about Juneteenth myself until I went to college and began taking Pan-African Studies courses. The holiday was never discussed or acknowledged at school or by city officials. It was largely acknowledged and celebrated in Black communities but nowhere else.  
Juneteenth commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, when Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger informed the people of Galveston, Texas, the last state to enforce institutional slavery, of their freedom—2 ½ years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated “all persons held as slaves...shall be free...and the Executive government, including the military and naval authorities, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.”
Even so, it was not until Congress ratified the Thirteenth Amendment that slavery was abolished in the United States. Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, ending the Civil War, and the 13th Amendment was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865. 
There were many more years of legalized segregation and other atrocities before the Brown versus Topeka Board of Education case in 1954 that dismantled legalized segregation. And there continues to be resistance to the full immersion of Blacks and Black history in schools. Some oppose teaching children any Black-focused history as it may make someone feel bad. Others oppose using even more vague terminology, like “diversity.”
It is important to know that freedom comes with resistance. Freedom did not come all at once, nor was it widely accepted. There was resistance then, and that resistance persists—but so shall we.
At Bellarmine, we are committed to living our institutional values of the dignity of every individual, the interconnectedness of life and the solidarity of the human spirit, which transcends ethnic, religious, and social divisions. Together, we will continue to make our world stronger and better. 
Dr. Tomarra Adams is Bellarmine University’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer.

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Located in the historic Highlands neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.