Release Date: June 17, 2021
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Cecil Foster is a professor of transnational studies in the Department of Africana and American Studies at the University at Buffalo. An expert on multiculturism, race, politics and other subjects, Foster provided the following statement on Congress approving Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
“The celebration of Juneteenth is an acknowledgment that the United States is willing to show the world its leadership in the recognition of a common dignity for all human beings. The American Civil War was an inflection point in history, not only for the United States but for the entire Americas and, indeed, the world. The war was fought over the ideal that all human beings should be free; that none should be enslaved, and that no racialized group was inferior or superior to others. Enslaved people were to become full citizens, enjoying all the rights of privileges of their country and states.”
“At the time of the Civil War, freedom for enslaved Africans in the Americas was tenuous. British possessions in the Americas and in the Northern States of the United States had established the revolutionary ideal and practice that all men and women were naturally free. The enslaving Confederate States disagreed and so began the war over as a binary choice: either to make the United States a country where all people are free or a country where only some races were free and enjoyed citizenship. The entire world was watching, and everyone in the Americas was forced to pick a side in this struggle. Should the Confederate States win the war there was no doubt, they would have not only retained enslavement of African people and their descendants but would have reestablished the practice in the northern states and even the British possessions like Canada and the British West Indies. It is for this reasons that free men from across the hemisphere, especially enslaved Southerners, flocked to the Unionist side to fight for universal liberty.”
“Juneteenth celebrates that moment in human history when freedom triumphed. When the news came to the last of the enslaved in the United States that they were free, this was the moment when freedom was a reality not only in the United States but in the entire Americas, from the North pole to the South pole. An American ideal of universal freedom had triumphed. This is why Juneteenth is not only an American celebration of freedom, but is noteworthy for the entire region. For it allows us to think back to that moment — when seemingly so briefly — Black and racialized people in the United States and the Americas were finally recognized universally as human beings, as possessing human dignity and as created equal. Juneteenth will also be a celebration of that spark in history when the United States set the highest standard for freedom, the same liberty and equality to which we aspire every day. Now it is a holiday, each year we will be encouraged to reflect on how well in our daily living we have lived up to that high ideal.”