In June 2021, the United States government made June 19th, or Juneteenth—a day commemorating the freeing of enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation—a national holiday. Juneteenth has come to collectively represent the eventual end of slavery in America and the pride in Black liberation held by the Black community.
Prior to its passage as a national holiday, Juneteenth was celebrated by 14 states. However, many are unaware of the impassioned soul who led the catalyst of the historic day to to be recognized nationwide.
Born on March 19th, 1937, Albert Ely Edwards dedicated his political career to championing Black causes, such as bringing attention to the significance of Juneteenth to all Americans. In an effort to have the US Congress officially recognize the day as a federal holiday, Edwards collaborated with state legislative bodies around the country to get the law passed at the state level over a series of decades. Notable Black leaders who were aligned with his mission include Rev. Jesse Jackson, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. For over 40 years, Edwards endlessly advocated for Juneteenth's national recognition, leading to how we've come to celebrate it today.
Edwards passed away April 2020 at the age of 83 but left behind a significantly enriching legacy for many to follow. Edwards' friend and colleague Maxine Waters said this of his memory and life's work:
”He was a highly effective and important member of the Texas legislature who created and chaired the Texas Black Legislative Caucus and served as Chair of the Democratic National Committee Black Caucus. Al and I served on the DNC together, we both endorsed, supported and worked for Jesse Jackson for President. We both worked to get Nelson Mandela released from prison and fought against apartheid in South Africa. Al Edwards stood firmly in the face of staunch opposition and wielded his influence to ensure that the abolition of slavery in the United States and the emancipation of our ancestors was properly recognized as a paid holiday in the state of Texas as a result he is recognized throughout the state and across the country as the indisputable father of the Juneteenth holiday.”
Although he was unable to see the fruits of his labor manifest in its entirety, we have him to thank for the cementing of this historic occasion for our community. It is largely due to Al Edwards that Juneteenth has been brought to public consciousness which we celebrate through art, music, events, film and more. On his birthday, we uplift his name, his vision for our community and his love of Black culture and history.