Juneteenth & The 4th of July: The Tale of Two Freedom Days

Juneteenth & The 4th of July: The Tale of Two Freedom Days

"The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free." — Maya Angelou



Freedom lies at the heart of America. This nation was forged from a yearning for independence and individual liberty. The struggle for these rights spanned generations, resulting in countless lives lost, and many argue this battle persists today. Two holidays commemorate America's hard-won freedom: First, the 4th of July, celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, established as a federal holiday in June 1870; and second, Juneteenth, marking the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in our nation learned of their freedom granted through the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. If the two holidays celebrate freedom in America, why both? What sets them apart? And do they compete or complement each other? Join us at HBCU Leggings as we delve into the relationship between these two Freedom Days.

Juneteenth Controversy

Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1865, when the enslaved in Galveston, Texas, were informed by General Gordon Granger of their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although effective from January 1st, 1863, the news spread slowly, and enforcement was challenging. For more on Juneteenth's origins, visit our HBCU Leggings Blog: Juneteenth - These are the Facts. This day holds profound significance for Black Americans, marking the definitive end of slavery.

Despite its historical weight, Juneteenth only became a federal holiday in 2021 with the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, signed by President Joe Biden after passing through Congress. Since then, it has gained popularity nationwide, observed with celebrations, days off, and commercial activities.

 In 2023, Vivek Ramaswamy, a Republican politician and former GOP Presidential candidate, addressed an audience in Vail, Iowa stating , “Cancel Juneteenth or one of the other useless ones we made up.” Ramaswamy defended this statement calling Juneteenth “redundant” in that it celebrated ideals that were already acknowledged on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But is that true? Is Juneteenth just a “useless holiday” cluttering our yearly calendar with redundancy? Or does it acknowledge a specific and critical milestone in the history of this nation?

Independence Day vs. Juneteenth

So, what distinguishes Juneteenth from Independence Day? Don't both celebrate freedom in America? If so, why do we need both? Exploring the specifics of each holiday may shed light on their roles.

Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, honors the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, proclaiming freedom from British rule. Drafted by 56 members of the Second Continental Congress, it marked the birth of a nation founded on ideals promising a better world.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, 
that all men are created equal, 
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
 that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 
— Declaration of Independence, 1776

Yet, this declaration carried a silent contradiction. In 1776, nearly 450,000 Black people remained enslaved, comprising almost 90% of the Black population, with most free Blacks being of mixed race. Did this not betray the very ideals on which America founded its newfound freedom? If "all men" were created equal, how could some be chattel while others enjoyed freedom?

It took almost 100 years for America to see the flaw in this. In 1863, the United States of America was entering its third year of the bloody war between the Union and the Confederacy. The Civil War was a conflict born from the issues of slavery. America’s foundation, being built on the backs of stolen labor of enslaved people, brought to the country against their free will, was in danger of being destabilized . The work of slaves was so integrated into the systems of American economics and politics that the moral issues of freedom and slavery threatened the way of life for many and it became a matter of life and death. In the end, the Union won its fight for the abolition of slavery and America was filled with many newly freed Black citizens. The war also pushed Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863 stating, “"that all persons held as slaves [within the rebellious states] are, and henceforward shall be free." This news spread across the country, instilling a new sense of hope for many Black Americans. However, the people of Galveston, Texas didn’t receive the good news until June 19th, 1865, when General Gordon Granger arrived with his troops. This day marks the true end of the practice slavery in the United States. 

"…in slavery I has no worries. But I takes freedom."
 — Margrett Nillin

Two Kinds of Freedom

What, then, sets these holidays apart? Independence Day celebrates national freedom from British rule, establishing self-governance. However, it failed to extend these freedoms to all. In 1776, America remained a country where many were second-class citizens, with enslaved Blacks at the bottom.

Juneteenth celebrates a big step forward in American history. On June 19th, 1863, this country got one step closer to living the ideals proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. The true end of slavery celebrates an individual freedom where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness became a more realistic dream for all American citizens.

This progress came with challenges. Despite the newfound freedom, support for America's newly freed citizens was scarce. Years later, Margrett Nillin, a former Galveston slave, reflected on her journey: "Well, it is this way. In slavery, I owned nothing. In freedom, I owned a home and raised my family. It caused me to worry; in slavery, I has no worries. But I takes freedom."

Moving Forward

While America has made strides, equality under the law remains elusive for some citizens. The fight for freedom continues, further justifying Juneteenth as a critical holiday. It marks a milestone in the struggle for civil rights, affirming the humanity and dignity of all people.

Juneteenth isn't redundant, as some critics claim. It honors the sacrifices and struggles of Black Americans for freedom and equality. Independence Day honors the nation's birth on noble principles, while Juneteenth underscores the ongoing journey to realize these ideals for every American.

These holidays don't compete; they complement each other, offering diverse perspectives on America's complex history. They stand as vital markers in our collective pursuit of a more perfect union.

Love and Leggings,


Bibi Mama is a first generation Beninese-American actress born and raised in Mansfield, CT. Growing up she watched her father, an English professor and author, continue the Yoruba oral tradition through storytelling, which inspired her. She earned her B.F.A. from Howard University and recently finished her MFA at the Old Globe/University of San Diego MFA Graduate Acting Program.
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.