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Juneteenth: An ongoing American dialogue

Last year, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. A Dickinson State University history professor and African-American student share their perspectives on how to observe the the newest federal holiday.

Isaiah Kludt, a senior at Dickinson State University, shares his notes on Juneteenth, noting that it's an important holiday to recognize the significant efforts of people who have made a difference in American history.
Isaiah Kludt, a senior at Dickinson State University, shares his notes on Juneteenth, noting that it's an important holiday to recognize the significant efforts of people who have made a difference in American history. He added that it's vital that Americans recognize all federal holidays from Veteran's Day to Independence Day.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — On June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, informing enslaved African Americans of their freedom and the Civil War had ended. The state of Texas was the first state to declare June 19 as a state holiday. It wouldn't be until 115 years later, in 2021, that President Joe Biden would sign the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans as a federal holiday.

To learn more about Juneteenth, The Dickinson Press spoke to a history professor and student, both at Dickinson State University.

David Meier, a history professor at Dickinson State University, noted that Juneteenth is a way for people to become more tolerant and understanding of one another. Meier highlighted that incidents of racial discrimination and racism found across the country indicates that an open dialogue on the issue is still very much needed in order to combat racism.

“... It tells you that this is a work in progress. It’s kind of an alert. If I had a kid that was going to school who seemed to have some odd difficulty with a particular subject, I wouldn’t legislate that they couldn’t talk about it,” Meir said. “I’d hope that we can at least find a happy medium to figure out how to bring them up to speed or to figure out what’s really underpinning what’s going on.”

Meier believes that observance of Juneteenth is a way to break through the divide and create opportunities to combat hate.

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“... If you define slavery, strictly speaking, as somebody who was taken from West Africa or someplace else and brought to the U.S....where do we draw the line between slavery and human trafficking?” Meier said. “... The issues that we can say are being discussed in the news, and now increasingly in public, with Juneteenth, I would like to think are sort of public testimonies to our attempt to deal with an issue. It’s not perfect. And there’s clearly a great deal of frustration.”

Importance of Juneteenth

Though Juneteenth is a new holiday, Meier added that it will take time to see how celebrations grow.

“... If one holiday buys us some time to figure out how to better deal with the issue, then that’s certainly an incentive to have it. The idea that Americans are still working their way through the consequences of the Civil War, you could link that with the tearing down of Civil War statutes,” Meier said. “... Will we still have Juneteenth as a holiday 100 years from today? … Let’s say somebody said, ‘Well, I’m not going to celebrate July 4, because I was a slave.’ Well, that’s your right; that’s the way you feel. The other side of the coin is to recognize that it’s July 4, 1776, not July 4, 2022… We think differently about it than someone would have thought about it 300 years ago. So what will Juneteenth become inthe future? Maybe it will become a point like the date of Woodstock, where people ask, ‘What was it that provoked that kind of action?’”

Recognizing individual struggles throughout American history doesn’t take 10 to 20 years, Meier said, explaining that it’s more of a generational change. Meier claims that when he first moved to Dickinson, there was a retired law enforcement officer who flew an SS flag in front of his house. In 2020, with the Black Lives Matter protests, Dickinson also saw its own peaceful confrontation outside Prairie Hills Mall . Meier noted that though times have changed, differences still exist even in a remote location such as western North Dakota.

“... We have a very colorful and a very difficult history, very complicated (and) it’s very fascinating too to try and see how these attitudes and perspectives interact, but we are very much, in that sense, a little bit of the wild frontier,” Meier said.

Isaiah Kludt, now a senior at DSU, is originally from Hettinger, North Dakota. Kludt has two sisters and two brothers. As a biology major, Kludt plans on attending physical therapy school after graduating in December. Despite living in an area that has a lower African American population than most parts of the country, Kludt noted that he doesn’t feel that he has been made to feel any different.

“Honestly, I’ve been living here my whole life. It really just is kind of the norm for me. I don’t really look at it like there's not a lot of African Americans around here,” he said. “This is where I’ve always been, this is what I've known.”

Juneteenth is an important holiday to pay tribute to those who have made a difference, Kludt remarked.

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“I think (it's) important just to recognize those people who gave us the opportunity… to just be free… for the black community,” Kludt said, adding that Martin Luther King, Jr., also paved waves for all Americans.

Jackie Jahfetson is a graduate of Northern Michigan University whose journalism path began in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a freelancer for The Daily Mining Gazette. Her previous roles include editor-in-chief at The North Wind and reporter at The Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich. Raised on a dairy farm, she immediately knew Dickinson would be her first destination west as she focuses on gaining aptitude for ranch life, crop farming and everything agriculture. She covers hard news stories centered on government, fires, crime and education. When not fulfilling deadlines and attending city commission meetings, she is a budding musician and singer.
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