During his time in the White House, former President Barack Obama delivered statements about Juneteenth on a near-annual basis — and although he is no longer in office, that has not changed. June 19 marks Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865 when the last formally enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned that they had been legally freed. On Friday, the former President and First Lady shared their thoughts and reflections, and Barack and Michelle Obama's tweets about Juneteenth 2020 are all about progress.
Barack took to Twitter to share his thoughts on Juneteenth, posting an article from the New York Times. With it, he wrote, "Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. It's a celebration of progress," he said. "It's an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible — and there is still so much work to do."
Former First Lady Michelle Obama also took to social media to share what Juneteenth means to her. "Most of us were taught that slavery came to an end when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But as is so often the case, the full promise of this country was delayed for segments of the African-American community," Michelle wrote. "And for enslaved people in Galveston Texas freedom didn't come until June 19, 1865."
Her post, lengthier than her husband's, also touched on the importance of progress. "What I love about Juneteenth is that even in that extended wait, we still find something to celebrate. Even though the story has never been tidy, and black folks have had to march and fight for every inch of our freedom, our story is nonetheless one of progress." This progress, she said, relates to her own family's journey. "Both of my grandfathers were the grandchildren of enslaved people. They grew up in the Jim Crow South and migrated north in search of a better life. But even then, they were still shut out of jobs and schools and opportunities because of the color of their skin."
The former First Lady made it clear her family was a part of the progress for Black Americans. "They pressed forward with dignity and with purpose, raising good kids, contributing to their communities, and voting in every election," she recalled. "And though they didn't live to see it themselves, I can see the smiles on their faces knowing that their great-granddaughters ended up playing ball in the halls of the White House — a magnificent structure built by enslaved Americans."
She finished her tweet with a call to action: for many others to remember to pledge their voices and votes for the sake of continued progress. "All across the country, there are so many more parts to the story — the generations of families who work in service and protest has led us forward, even if the promise we seek is often delayed," she said. "This Juneteenth, let's all pledge to keep our voices — and our votes — to keep that story marching forward for our own children and theirs."
In past years, Barack Obama has talked about that day in Galveston as a "first step" toward freedom for Black people, and he has called on Americans to reflect on how far the country has come since 1865. At the same time, he has also acknowledged the systemic racism and racist violence that is still pervasive in the United States. In 2015, for example, Juneteenth fell just two days after a mass shooting at Charleston's Mother Emanuel church, one of the oldest Black churches in the South. That year, Obama's Juneteenth statement noted that "our celebrations are tinged with sorrow."
"Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are," Obama said in 2015. "Instead, it's a celebration of progress. It's an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, things do get better."
This year, Juneteenth fell amid ongoing protests against racist police brutality across the country, following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and others. While President Donald Trump didn't mention Juneteenth in his June 19 thread of tweets, which instead included a rally of DACA criticism, the Obamas released their own statements about Juneteenth, and the main message was a call for celebration for progress made, as well as the need to continue progressing toward equality.