Michelle Obama reflects on Juneteenth and family’s slavery history

The former first lady opens up about her grandfathers, who were both the grandchildren of enslaved people.

(Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Glamour)

Michelle Obama reflects on the dark history of Juneteenth and what the holiday means to her, in a powerful message shared on social media.

The former first lady released a statement on Friday, June 19 — a day commemorating when the last slaves in Texas were freed in 1865 — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. 

“Most of us were taught that slavery came to an end when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But as is so often the case, the full promise of this country was delayed for segments of the African-American community,” Obama wrote in a statement shared to Twitter, UK Independent reports.  “And for enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, freedom didn’t come until June 19th, 1865.”

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This year, the Juneteenth holiday coincides with ongoing protests across the country over police brutality and the death of George Floyd. Obama shared that the history of this day reminds her of her own family’s experience with racism.

Her grandfathers were both the grandchildren of slaves. 

“They grew up in the Jim Crow South and migrated north in search of a better life,” she wrote. “But even then, they were still shut out of jobs and schools and opportunities because of the color of their skin,” she wrote. 

 

“But they pressed forward with dignity and with purpose, raising good kids, contributing to their communities, and voting in every election,” Obama added. 

“And though they didn’t live to see it themselves, I can see the smiles on their faces knowing that their great-granddaughters ended up playing ball in the halls of the White House – a magnificent structure built by enslaved Americans,” she continued. 

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Obama concluded her message by noting that there are “so many more parts to this story.”

“Even though the story has never been tidy, and black folks have had to march and fight for every inch of our freedom, our story is nonetheless one of progress,” she wrote.

On Friday, former president Barack Obama also acknowledged the holiday in a Twitter post explaining that “Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress,” he wrote. 

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