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Honoring Juneteenth: Celebrating Freedom and the Ongoing Fight for Justice

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Today, we celebrate Juneteenth, a monumental day marking the liberation of enslaved Black people in the United States. While the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, it didn't immediately free everyone in Confederate territory. It wasn't until June 19, 1865, that over 250,000 people in Texas finally learned of their freedom. 

Post-emancipation, African Americans were forced to carve their place in a society that was still hostile to their rights and existence. Nevertheless, they worked to reclaim space in every facet of life, from politics to the workforce. In 1925, A. Philip Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly African-American labor union. This was a significant stride in demanding respect, fair wages, and better working conditions for Black workers. A. Philip Randolph famously once said, “Freedom is never given; it is won.” 

Despite the progress made, inequality persists. Due to systematic racism, Black people still earn between 30% and 35% less than white workers, have disproportionately high unemployment rates, and are routinely passed over for opportunities for promotion. However, unionized Black workers earn on average 14% more than non-union workers across the workforce. The Labor Movement holds true to always fighting for and combating the continued injustices experienced by Black workers. A union contract is the single best tool we have to close racial wage gaps and ensure dignity and fair treatment for all workers. 

Rasean Clayton, President of the APRI Phoenix Chapter, captures this spirit well: “That same fighting spirit that slaves had is in each and every union member, labor leader, and activist — keeping the torch going in closing the gap on economic, social, and racial inequalities.”

Through collective action and solidarity, unions continue to fight for fair treatment and equity for Black workers, echoing the belief that when we fight, we win. Juneteenth is a reminder of the long road to freedom and justice, and it underlines the importance of ongoing efforts to achieve true equality. As we honor this day, let us also commit to supporting the fight for justice for Black workers and ensuring that their voices are heard and their rights are protected.

Juneteenth 2024