As we reflect on the significance of the Juneteenth holiday in the United States, I am reminded of the time that I was honored to hold one of the last few remaining copies of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln while visiting the Union League House in Philadelphia.
In 1864 President Lincoln traveled to Philadelphia and hand signed 40 copies of the Proclamation as part of a fund raising effort. The copies were sold for $20 each, a hefty sum in 1864, to raise money for the Sanitary Commission — an organization which helped provide support services for soldiers returning from the Civil War. A small number of the signed copies are known to have survived.
Holding the document that Lincoln referred to as “…the great event of the 19th century” was a moving, transformative experience for me.
As Dr. Martin Luther King described during his 1963 “I have a Dream” speech “…this momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope for millions of negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.”
With this document and the stroke of a pen, President Lincoln declared that “…all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
On Juneteenth, we commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. We feel the gravity of the revelation that news of the proclamation was kept from so many — the last of whom learned that they were “finally free” in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. We honor those who endured withering injustice and we celebrate the dignity, the perseverance, and the courage of the African American culture.
“Holding the document that Lincoln referred to as ‘…the great event of the 19th century’ was a moving, transformative experience for me.”
I believe the best way to preserve the legacy of Juneteenth and the power of the Emancipation Proclamation is to continue to shine that “great beacon light of hope” on the next steps of our journey.
The power of proclamation is something I reflect on every day in my work as Cisco’s Chief Social Impact Officer. Proclamations are more than words. They have the power to change the course of history. Cisco’s purpose — to Power an Inclusive Future for All — is a proclamation. So are our Social Justice Beliefs and the 12 actions we’re taking to drive lasting, generational change by addressing inequities, breaking down barriers, and creating more inclusive opportunities for people to thrive. Our actions are making substantial impact. Now, we’re exploring new ways to go further — faster.
“I believe the best way to preserve the legacy of Juneteenth and the power of the Emancipation Proclamation is to continue to shine that ‘great beacon light of hope’ on the next steps of our journey.”
Many of Cisco’s leaders are sharing their perspectives on “Freedom Day” — including Maria Martinez on Empowering Historically Black Colleges and Universities through our Social Justice commitments and the impact we’re making at Clark Atlanta University.
Here’s wishing Cisco — the African American community — and the country a Happy Juneteenth.