Dear UW Law Community Members,

On June 19, 1865, more than two months after the end of the Civil War and two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the U.S. Army in Galveston issued General Order 3, declaring that “all slaves are free.” This affirmed the liberation of approximately 250,000 African Americans in Texas, the westernmost state of the former Confederacy. As some 2000 Union troops marched through Galveston, the order was read aloud at various locations, including a Black church.

The next year, African Americans in Texas celebrated June 19 as “Jubilee Day.” Over time, it’s been commemorated around the country under various other names, including “Freedom Day,” “Liberation Day,” and “Juneteenth.” The State of Wisconsin made Juneteenth Day a legal holiday back in 2009.

Late yesterday afternoon, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was signed into law. This law makes Juneteenth a national holiday. The law took effect immediately, so that today marks the commemoration of the first federal Juneteenth holiday. At long last.

This is a very special Juneteenth. It is a day to reflect on this country’s history and the continuing struggle for liberation and genuine equality. Painful as it is, we must not forget the horrors of slavery and its devastating impact on countless human beings and the soul of this country. We should also remember the many people who have given their voices, bodies, and even lives in service of freedom and racial justice.

Here at UW-Madison, the Juneteenth flag will fly over the Wisconsin Union this weekend. All members of our community are encouraged to participate in one or more opportunities to commemorate Juneteenth.

As lawyers, we have a special obligation to make the principle of equal justice a reality. It is our responsibility not just to take the law as we find it, but to make it better and to help people whose cries for justice have not yet been answered. There is a direct link between this country’s shameful history of slavery and the continuing inequities – including violence by public officials – that African Americans and other people of color continue to endure. These are not someone else’s problems. They belong to all of us, especially those of us who have chosen to devote our careers to law.

So let this Juneteenth serve as a reminder of our past, both the bad and the good, as well as our continuing responsibility to advance racial justice throughout our lives and our careers as lawyers. I wish you all a reflective and joyous Juneteenth!


Daniel P. Tokaji  
Fred W. & Vi Miller Dean and Professor of Law 
University of Wisconsin Law School

Submitted by Law School News on June 19, 2021

This article appears in the categories: Features