The Leadership Conference’s Statement on the Commemoration of Juneteenth


Contact: Sofia Costas, [email protected]

WASHINGTON — Maya Wiley, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released the following statement on the commemoration of Juneteenth:

“Juneteenth marks the end of chattel slavery in America, and on this day we celebrate the removal of literal chains from Black bodies. Union troops marched into the western-most confederate state of Texas to proclaim Black people free. That day brought hope that this nation would face its founding sins, wash itself clean of them, and ensure the Constitution would become a blanket of protection, welcoming Black people into its folds of full citizenship. Juneteenth is not only a celebration of a past promise and the progress hard won in the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights, but a reminder that the promise is unfulfilled and we must march on. Worse, that progress is under attack. Juneteenth is a call to act together to demand the promise be fulfilled and our future as a diverse, equitable, and inclusive society be assured.

“For more than 400 years, Black Americans have endured systemic inequalities — a playing field fenced in with ‘whites only’ signs. When Black and racial justice allies forced this nation to pull down the fence of segregation, of inhumane treatment, and of enforced claims of inferiority, Black people were told to play with no equipment, no protective gear, no training, and no investments. Being in different conditions could then be treated as the fault of those descendents of the disinvestments and present day inheritors of the costs of segregation. The rules of the game changed as Black people figured out how to get around the poll taxes and the counting of jelly beans to get to the goal post of the ballot box. We found ways to march and sing, and we suffered beatings for daring to advocate for fair rules and for the tools, the training, and the access to education that would help us play on the fields denied to us. We were working through the playbook and writing one that made sense for everyone. 

“So, the players on the white supremacy team of  ‘great replacement’ infamy, the team of fear, the team that doesn’t want to compete, but just win, the team that would proclaim that the very rules and programs designed to help us all play, protect our bodies, have a quality education, learn our history, and read books about our people is a great danger today, as are those who prefer to flagellate democracy rather than create a shared future where we are all able to find each other and create new and diverse teams. The rules that simply proclaimed equality didn’t really invest in it. 

“We have already seen this nation that marched into the streets in masses of rainbows of humanity to decry systemic racism, turn its back on the reckoning of the blue uniformed knees on the unshackled neck of a father, a brother, a son, named George, and the bullet riddled body of a daughter, a medical worker, named Breonna. The shackled weight of iron has been replaced with the dirty cloth of ‘color blindness’ now tied across the eyes that once could see a bipartisan need for voting rights; for valuing diversity and the qualifications of Black people; and the ability of women to become mothers and survive or to choose if, when, and how to start or grow a family. America’s dream — our dream — has never been fulfilled, and ‘color blindness’ has become an excuse to deny us all that dream.

“As Langston Hughes wrote in his still resonant poem, ‘American Dream’:

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any [person] be crushed by one above.

“This reverie, this call for democracy and all the justice and fairness, unity, and beauty it can bring, requires us now to make that dream a reality. To ensure our democracy works for everyone — that we have a say in how we fund schools, support small businesses and paths to college, unshackle our children from student debt, and make sure everyone can see a doctor when they are sick and keep the politicians out of the doctor’s examining room — requires Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Freedom to Vote Act, and the Native American Voting Rights Act. The promise of Juneteenth remains the dream of our ancestors that America shall be all that she has promised for our children and our children’s children. Juneteenth is a reminder that our greatest power comes from our collective action, our commitment to march on, and to not stop until we see the dream fulfilled. Let us honor the resilience and courage of those who have fought for freedom by continuing their work to build a more equitable and inclusive society. Our democracy depends on it, and our future demands it.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 240 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit