Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield: what Juneteenth celebration means to me

June 19, or Juneteenth, marks the day Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to proclaim the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865. Although President Lincoln abolished slavery on January 1, 1863, it took more than two years for those in remote parts of the United States to receive notice of their freedom. The recognition of Juneteenth not only marks the effective end of chattel slavery, but represents how freedom and justice are delayed for far too many.   

This Juneteenth, I reflect on my great-grandmother, Mary Thomas. She was born in 1865, the child of a slave. I am just three generations removed from her, but our lives could not be more different. My ancestors were enslaved, and now I represent America to the world as the Representative of the United States to the United Nations. It is a remarkable journey, but one that is far from complete. This legacy of enslavement and struggle compounds the responsibility I feel now to use my platform to continue the drive for freedom and equality in all places where they are lacking. 

President Biden and Vice President Harris have made eliminating racial discrimination and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion one of our core priorities, both at home and abroad. It is the right thing to do, and it is central to our strategy. That is true whether we are discussing how to hire and retain a more diverse federal workforce or addressing crises in the UN Security Council. We must be aware of who is not in the room and act to ensure the perspectives of historically marginalized people are represented. 

On Juneteenth, one of the best ways to exercise and express the freedom we celebrate is by advocating for the most vulnerable among us to be able to enjoy their freedoms. It is what I strive to do at the United Nations every day. 

Our ancestors fought for the liberties we enjoy today. Let us honor them by continuing the fight. 

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