CHDS Co-Founder, Alum on the Importance of the Juneteenth Holiday

Juneteenth Independence Day, the official name for the June 19 federal holiday, is a deeply significant, healing, and symbolic holiday for the United States. Juneteenth is also known as the “second Independence Day” as it commemorates the final end of slavery; 250,000 slaves were freed when Union troops, led by Major Gen. Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston Bay, TX, on June 19, 1865. The Civil War had ended on May 26, 1865, but no one had yet enforced the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the Confederacy, on January 1, 1863.

CHDS Co-Founder and ELP Alum Darrell Darnell

Darrell Darnell, a founding father of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) and an Executive Leaders Program alum (ELP cohort 1102), has been celebrating Juneteenth since childhood. For Darnell, Juneteenth is not just a celebration for the Black community—it is a day for reflection. It is, Darnell said, “our day to celebrate freedom for all of those who were enslaved.”

Before it became a federal holiday, Texas was the first state to recognize the holiday by law in 1980. Juneteenth, a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth,” is one of the five date-specific federal holidays.

Juneteenth, said Darnell, “underscore[s] the need for a democratic society supported by a military to enforce the nation’s laws against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.”

As a retired military veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and later working for the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and in the Obama Administration, Darnell said Juneteenth “was always and continues to be a reminder that we have to continue to fight for freedom because there will always be an element that will try to deny freedom to us all, or a segment of the population. Democracy is only as strong as those who will really fight for it and defend it. Hopefully, now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, more Americans will learn about why we celebrate it as a national holiday, and why it is applicable to all Americans, and not just Black Americans.”

While in office, former presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump all made statements honoring Juneteenth. President Joseph Biden would go further, signing the holiday into federal law in 2021.

Juneteenth is the newest federal holiday and the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was adopted in 1983.

Under President Bill Clinton, there was speculation that he would apologize for slavery after he apologized to both the survivors of Tuskegee syphilis experiments and undecorated Black World War II heroes in 1997. Clinton never ended up making the official apology, nor any presidents who followed him, though a formal apology for both slavery and Jim Crow laws was given by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008.

Darnell noted that Juneteenth also represents the delay in freeing the last Black slaves in the U.S., and this mirrors the long fight for civil rights in our nation, including efforts to deny voting rights and fairly elected representation for Black Americans, which is a continuation of the struggle for equal rights.

We as Americans, said Darnell, need to break the “us versus them” cycle, which too often assumes that efforts to give reparations to Black Americans (such as reimbursement to Black farmers who have been systematically denied federal loans for decades), will unfairly impact others, including those who have, historically, benefited from such discrimination.

As a whole, CHDS and the homeland security enterprise can improve diversity and inclusion, Darnell said, by being “intentional in terms of who your faculty [is], making sure that the faculty is diverse and reflects the way our country looks in terms of Black and brown and white, men and women.”

Moreover, having the tough conversations, said Darnell, is what “builds inclusion and allows people to really understand where other people are coming from. You don’t necessarily need to agree, but you need to understand what they’re thinking. I believe that you need to have a way to talk about it.”

Darnell cited a new book entitled Our Hidden Conversations by Michele Norris, a Washington Post op-ed writer and former NPR journalist, who won the Peabody for her work on the Race Card Project, which she began in 2010. It started with 200 postcards, with Norris inviting people to distill their thoughts on race in six words. By the book’s publication, more than a half-million people would take part in the project. Darnell agreed with Norris that we often have conversations with friends and family that we don’t have with colleagues, and that it is time for us to get past that hesitation.

Darnell also recommended CHDS take the lead in looking at the role and history of law enforcement nationwide, as well as the potential for national standardized training and policies.

Darnell is a homeland security and emergency management subject matter expert who currently serves as President of DTE Consulting. He is an Affiliated Faculty Member for the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI), a joint program of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Observing Juneteenth:

  • Book Club: The options are numerous, including I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown; Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi; Beyond Fragility: A Skills-Based Guide to Effective Anti-Racist Allyship by Yara Mekawi, Natalie Watson-Singleton and Danyelle Dawson; and On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed.
  • Colors: Red, black and green; the color red, specifically, is symbolic for the blood of the ancestors who did not experience emancipation or freedom; red is also symbolic of resistance and sacrifice. While the original Juneteenth flag was red, white, and blue, more recent flags are red, green, and black, which are the same colors as the Pan-African flag.
  • Community Service: Volunteering with family and friends, especially for organizations impacting Black communities.
  • Fun: Support Black-owned businesses and restaurants; share Juneteenth art, books, and music; enjoy community and museum events, both in-person and virtually.
  • Gather: Barbeques, picnics, street fairs, cookouts, family parties, and park parties are all common celebrations to have on Juneteenth.
  • History: Play a Juneteenth trivia or Jeopardy-like game. Re-tell the stories to keep the history alive, and remember Juneteenth advocates like Ben Haith, who created the Juneteenth flag, and Opal Lee, known as the grandmother of Juneteenth, who campaigned for the holiday for decades at the local and state-level.
  • Work: Give employees a paid holiday. Share Juneteenth “Did You Know?” information on social media. Invest in being an ally to the Black community; hold a donation drive to support Black-led nonprofits. If possible, match employees’ donations to a certain percentage. Host a “Lunch and Learn” with a historian or expert, and support a Black-owned business.
  • The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture will host in person as well as virtual programming of “Senses of Freedom: Exploring the Tastes, Sounds and Experiences of an African American Celebration.”

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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