On Monday June 19, 2023, Juneteenth will be observed, and it will be nationally for just the third time.

Some conservative commentators quibbled with the creation of this holiday positioning it as an alternative to Independence Day.

For this writer, it presents an opportunity to learn more about our collective American history and to celebrate how remarkable it is to be a people bound by values, not blood or religion. We never settle until every member of the American family gains access to the promise of this nation.

Juneteenth (shortened from June Nineteenth) commemorates the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people were notified of their freedom.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation two-and-a-half years prior on Jan. 1, 1863. However, news of freedom did not reach Galveston, Texas, which was the westernmost area of Confederate control, until over 2,000 Union troops arrived with the announcement.

By the end of the year, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery nationwide.

The end of the institution of slavery commenced a period of promise, opportunity, and uncertainty for millions of newly-freed Americans and the nation.

“What I like bes’, to be slave or free? Well, its dis way. In slavery I owns nothin’ and never owns nothin’,” said 90-year-old Margarett Nillin of Fort Worth, Texas in 1937.

“In freedom I’s own de home and raise de family. All dat cause me worryment and in slavery I has no worryment, but I takes de freedom.”

Nillin reflected on life before and after slavery to historians.

Her thoughts expressed the complexity of what some people today would assume is a simple answer. Freedom, of course, is better than being enslaved to any person.

But — freedom comes at a price.

For slaves like Nillin, freedom granted her autonomy, property rights, and civil rights, but that came with responsibilities unknown to her under slavery.

Homeownership and raising a family — two milestones of adulthood — were sources of anxiety and worry then as they are now.

After slavery ended by law and in practice, freedmen became akin to young adults striking out on their own and being solely responsible for their own well-being.

Nillin and her mother found work as seamstresses and earned an “alright” living after some time. She married and had children.

Money wasn’t the only challenge freedmen faced in post-slavery life.

The brutality of slave masters and overseers was replaced by violence and vigilantism from the Ku Klux Klan.

Nillin’s home was spared attacks by Klansmen, but she recounted them coming around her neighborhood and once beating up a Black man for getting “foolishment in him [sic] head.”

Still, self-determination, ownership, and opportunity were greater prizes than the fear that came with an uncertain future. Nillin’s descendants would likely agree.

Blacks lag behind other races on a number of measures such as wealth and incomehome ownership, and health outcomes.

Sadly, two out of three Black children are raised in single-parent households, and they suffer negative behavioral, educational, and workforce outcomes as a result.

Addressing these issues for Blacks and other races is an important mission.

But Blacks are not helpless victims. Black Americans and immigrants have achieved tremendous progress over the past century and a half.

In addition to the repeal of racist laws and policies, the promotion of education and expansion of economic opportunity have lifted Blacks to assume top leadership positions in government and the private sector.

Blacks are CEOs and serial entrepreneurs, senators, and mayors.

The nation has elected a Black president and vice president.

As Republican presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., noted on ABC’s “The View” a successful Black person is not an exception but the rule.

A robust Black middle and upper class also lead comfortable lives. Nearly half (49%) of Black households earn above $50,000 each year.

One out of five earns above $100,000.

This is progress.

Although the blessings of freedom and prosperity were withheld from millions of Blacks for generations, Americans have fought for each soul to enjoy the natural rights that Thomas Jefferson so eloquently penned in the Declaration of Independence.

We could have been satisfied with just marveling at the aspirational truths espoused in our founding document. Instead, we chose to live them.

Americans shed blood and endured periods of social upheaval to ensure that the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” would not be denied to any citizen.

Let Juneteenth be a reminder of not just the triumph of freedom, but the constant pursuit of equality. It doesn’t take away from July 4th; it only adds to it.