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The significance of Juneteenth to UNF’s Black Student Union

Wednesday is Juneteenth, a federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery for African Americans in the United States.

The University of North Florida will be closed for the holiday, and members of the Black Student Union said it’s not just another day off from school.

Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1865, two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which did not apply to states still under Confederate control. In most southern states, enslaved African Americans were not freed until the end of the Civil War and the disbandment of Confederate troops.

Around a quarter-million African Americans were freed that year, creating a “second Independence Day” for the United States.

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BSU President Sammie Fowler III, Vice President Ashanti Bryant and PR-Marketing Director Kayla Charde talked about what Juneteenth means for members of the black community and the future of equality. 

The significance of Juneteenth

Togetherness and cooperation were at the heart of the the BSU executive board’s thoughts on the federal holiday. According to Fowler, Juneteenth is a reminder of how far the country has come and the hard work that still needs to be done.

“We pride ourselves on unity … Juneteenth is a day observed to remember the struggles and reflect on how much further we have to go,” he said.

Charde agreed, noting that Juneteenth in 1865 wasn’t the end of the struggle for African Americans. It still isn’t.

“Juneteenth … recognizes our accomplishments and our freedom, even though intellectually and politically, I don’t think that we are free in a sense,” Charde said. “July 4, Independence Day is not Independence Day for all Americans because … in the 1700s, we were not free citizens.”

Charde explained that even after 1865’s emancipation, African American men were not granted full citizenship and voting rights until the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed.

Even after women were able to vote, segregation and Jim Crow laws made it hard for black people to exercise this right in the 20th century.

Charde emphasized the fact that Juneteenth is a relatively new federal holiday. President Joe Biden established Juneteenth National Independence Day in 2021.

“It’s a sign that we still have a lot of work to do, considering that [Juneteenth] only became recognized at a federal level three years ago,” she said.

Bryant said it’s important for people to educate themselves on African American history.

“Understanding how far African Americans have come, how far the United States has come, is beneficial,” Bryant said. ”History can repeat itself. And we try not to have it repeat itself.”

Building community

The BSU is still scheduling events at UNF for the upcoming academic year. Fowler said the closure of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has left them to be exclusively a Registered Student Organization rather than a member of the Student Alliance for Inclusion and Diversity (SAID).

According to Fowler, the transition has been rocky, and he thinks the ODI closure has given prospective and current UNF students the wrong impression. 

“A lot of people suddenly got this idea that these groups no longer exist. It’s like you’re destroying the foundation that this university stands upon,” Fowler said. “It’s pushing a lot of people away.”

Although the BSU, the Latin American Student Organization and Asian Students in Alliance are no longer housed under ODI, Fowler assured students these safe spaces still exist and are here to stay.  

Bryant said the BSU welcomes all students to attend events posted on the organization’s Instagram page.

“I think it’s a misconception that BSU is only for African American students. That’s not the case at all. We want everyone to feel that they can come and participate and be involved in conversations with us,” she said. “It takes a village.”

Bryant described the BSU as “a big cookout with friends and family, educating ourselves and having fun.” 

The BSU will have a booth at UNF’s Summer B Cookout event on Monday.

The event will be at noon outside the John A. Delaney Student Union. It will feature a variety of UNF student clubs and organizations.

To learn more about upcoming BSU events, visit its Instagram page or email [email protected].


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].


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Madelyn Schneider
Madelyn Schneider, News Editor

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