Juneteenth Commemorated with Sleepout for Social Justice

Flag with horzontal stripes of red, black and green, with the word Juneteenth in gold letters

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 16, 2022) — UAlbany will commemorate Juneteenth with its second annual Sleepout for Social Justice tonight.

The event, held in collaboration with collaboration with Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Crescent Community Charities, will begin at 11 p.m. outside Campus Center West, and conclude Friday at 6 a.m. Participants will take turns reciting the name, age, year and disembarkation port of enslaved Africans, from the African Names Database (Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation).

The sleepout also is a fundraiser to support the work of the Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Albany Medical Center in the area of Sickle Cell Research, and the H. Danston Davis Swim Scholarship Fund, which underwrites the cost of water safety and swimming lessons for children of color, who are less likely than the general population to know how to swim and therefore at significantly greater risk of drowning, based on data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. 

Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the abolishment of slavery in the United States, and will be observed across the country as a federal holiday this Sunday and Monday.

The holiday, which originated in Galveston, Texas, has been celebrated annually on June 19 since 1865, the day that the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached enslaved people in Galveston. The day is also observed as a celebration of African American culture. 

President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday last year. It was the first time a new federal holiday was established since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was approved in 1983. 

Faculty experts

The University has several experts available to media to discuss the history of Juneteenth and its significance today.  Among them are:

Jennifer Burns, Lecturer, Africana Studies

“The Juneteenth commemoration holiday reminds us to reflect upon the meaning of freedom, and to reckon with the complicated and uncomfortable truths in American history.  To truly be agents of change, all of us must continue to learn about and celebrate the Black American experience.”

Janell Hobson, Professor, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies 

"Juneteenth, which commemorates the last remaining bondspeople in Galveston, Texas, to learn about their freedom from the Emancipation Proclamation, has wider implications for all of us who have ever questioned our own freedoms. The holiday is a reminder that freedom is not just a state of rule but a state of mind. We must never take our freedoms for granted when remembering all those who came before us who forced this nation to bear out the true meaning of a democracy freed from slavery." 

Hayward Derrick Horton, Professor, Department of Sociology and School of Public Health 

"We are living in unprecedented times. Anti-Blackness, i.e. extreme racism directed specifically at Black people, is at its highest levels since the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 1960s. Yet today's anti-Blackness is more subtle and pervasive. 

"One obvious defense against this extreme form of racism is the knowledge of black history. Indeed, without the contributions and sacrifices of black people in America, the United States as we know it would not exist.  Thus, the history of black America should be known to all because it is the history of America.

"Juneteenth is an important part of America's history. It is hoped that Juneteenth can serve as a starting point for broader discussions on black history in general and efforts to practice anti-racism in particular. In short, Juneteenth should be more than a simple celebration of the past. Instead, it should be a call to action for a brighter future."