June 19: Celebrating 150 Years Of Slavery Ending. But Is The Battle Over?

"People should be aware of what we accomplished...but what we still need to accomplish."

Today more than ever, America is still grappling with the continued effects of racism, hate crimes and systemic oppression against Black Americans. Poignantly, today is also "Juneteenth," the celebration of both the ending of slavery in the U.S. and one of the darkest, most oppressive periods in our history.

On this day, exactly 150 years ago, Union soldiers occupied Galveston, Texas to enforce that all slaves be freed. 

Interestingly, this occurred in 1865, two years following the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation declared that all slaves in rebellious states "shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free," though this measure did not actually end slavery throughout the U.S. And while the Union occupation of Texas did not immediately eradicate slavery, it's commemorated as the day Texas received a general order to end slavery.

Juneteeth, therefore, is a day of reflection, celebration and empowerment to continue the fight for equality.

The holiday is often celebrated with festivals, concerts or through self-reflection. It commemorates the ending of America's longest, most oppressive period. But in the midst of nationwide mourning over nine deaths in a crime fueled by hate and racism, today, perhaps, will be markedly somber. 

A Plus took to New York City's Grand Central Terminal to ask a critical question: What do you hope we will change starting this Juneteenth that will be recognized by future generations?

One pair's answer was especially resonant. "Because of all the racially-provoked shootings, I'd hope they will say people did not put up with it."

This week, a 21-year-old White man named Dylann Roof reportedly confessed to killing nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church, a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. 

We may be 150 years from the first Juneteenth, but those 150 years have been marked by continued struggle. Systematic oppression and racism were channeled through voting rights, education, home ownership restrictions and other forms of discrimination experienced by Black Americans, and in the spirit of Juneteenth, it's important to analyze present-day issues related to race through a critical and analytical lens. 

In the 150th year since the Union troops entered Texas, there has been a number of highly-publicized incidents that are widely perceived to be racially motivated. Incidents involving Black Americans in 2015 like the death of Freddie Gray, the shooting of Walter Scott or the police force used against a teenage girl at a McKinney, Texas pool party have all been captured on video that was then shared widely and evoked public outcry.

Recent movements, like the Black Lives Matter movement, have helped to address these issues by organizing wide-spread protests, marches and national conversations on race in America. 

And because today is Juneteenth, a day of reflection even in the midst of a hate-fueled tragedy, it was important to feel the pulse of everyday New Yorkers and 

Here's what other pedestrians at Grand Central hope we accomplish in 2015 in light of Juneteenth:

"A reduction in violence."

"That we found positive ways to get everyone involved. It's an American problem."

"That we focused on schools in the inner-cities."

"We made people more aware of Juneteenth. People should be aware of what we accomplished... but what we still need to accomplish."

"Stopping people on the street and having them think about it. I'm going to go home and have a chat with my kids."

A site dedicated to Juneteenth provides an in-depth overview of its celebrations and history. 

In the midst of the events and tragedies surrounding race relations, deaths and hate crime, empowerment through Juneteenth is perhaps more important now than ever.

Cover photo courtesy of television mini-series "Roots," via PBS