Juneteenth for some Oklahoma State students is not only a celebration, but also a stepping stone.
On Sept. 14, Oklahoma State officials added Juneteenth as an official university holiday at a faculty council meeting.
While the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, it could not be enacted in states under federal control. Juneteenth marks the day when an executive decree on June 19, 1865, freed more than 250,000 enslaved people in Texas. This was two month after the Civil War ended. The day is now recognized as time to remember African Americans’ Independence from slavery.
Over 150 years later, on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, making the day a federal holiday.
For some students, like Jana Harris, an OSU student majoring in applied exercise science, this day becoming an official holiday is overdue.
“I was happy about Juneteenth becoming a holiday,” Harris said. “I thought, finally it’s happening.”
Like Harris, Kyle Kentner, an OSU student majoring in computer science, said making this day a holiday is behind schedule. Juneteenth is the oldest known U.S. celebration recognizing the ending of slavery, according to the U.S. National Park Service.
He said Juneteeth is the day when the whole nation became free and is an important part of history.
“It (Juneteenth) means sort of, like, the unification of the whole nation,” Kentner said. “Juneteenth is the rebirth of the United States and a step closer to the idea of everyone being free.”
Juneteenth is a federal holiday that is not yet recognized on a state level in Oklahoma as a paid holiday. Although this year’s Juneteenth was on a Saturday, some federal offices observed the national holiday on Friday, June 18, 2021, for pay and leave purposes. Some federal employees such as workers at the Tinker Air Force Base did not go to work that Friday.
On June 21, OSU’s main campus in Stillwater, OSU Oklahoma City and OSU Tulsa were closed in honor of Juneteenth. No in-person or online classes were held and staff was given administrative leave for the day, according to a statement by Burn Hargis, the former OSU president.