Juneteenth: America’s freedom and future


Historical re-enactors prepare for a 2006 Juneteenth parade in Philadelphia. (PHOTO: Laura Blanchard, Flickr CC-BY)

Today is Juneteenth. 

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers informed enslaved people near Galveston, Texas, that they were now free. The date was colloquially referred to as Juneteenth. From that day forward, it became a celebrated holiday among these newly freed people.

Within African-American communities, Juneteenth stood as America’s “Second Independence Day.” That’s a good way to think about it. A Christian refers to a spiritual experience as being “born again.” In this way, Juneteenth represents the spiritual experience of America reborn by righting past wrongs. 

At our nation’s founding, less than a quarter of the human beings who lived in America enjoyed the benefits of full citizenship. The government considered the vast majority, in varying degrees, to be the property of others. And while you might say that people of those times couldn’t conceive of any other way to do things (in truth, many of them could), that cannot absolve any nation of its past. 

Today, we can see in our own lives that slavery and second-class citizenship for women count among the intolerable aspects of early America. Juneteenth represented the beginning of necessary change.

And yet the legacy of America’s founding sins remain etched upon our society. If this year’s addition of Juneteenth as an official state holiday causes discomfort, this is the reason why. Even those who arrived in America long after the Civil War became steeped in the stereotypes, prejudices, and systemic injustice embedded within our history.

One of the common complaints I hear from people of color who live in northern Minnesota is how people always ask where they are from. The question implies that they could not be from here, even if they were raised in Bagley, Bigfork or Buhl. 

To some, Black History seems distinct from northern Minnesota’s history. But that assumption erases people from the true story.

A Black nurse named Hattie Mosley stepped off the train at Hibbing in 1905. This happened before most immigrants arrived, including half of my Iron Range ancestors. Indeed, Mosley spent most of her life nursing patients in Hibbing. She served in an official capacity at the Rood Hospital and unofficially as a private duty nurse and volunteer caregiver for the poor.

As the daughter of previously enslaved people, Hattie turns Iron Range history on its head. She quickly became an indispensable part of the community. In fact, she served a vital role in the response to the 1918 influenza epidemic that killed 50 million people, including hundreds on the Iron Range. 

Hattie Mosley worked on the front lines of the worst pandemic in modern history. And even though she faced the same prejudices experienced by African-Americans elsewhere in America, she proclaimed to love Hibbing. She worked there until her death in 1937.

History might have forgotten Hattie had her Finnish-American friends not demanded she be recognized decades later. Last year, Hibbing Community College named a building for her. She never would have expected this.

Now more states and organizations, including Minnesota, recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday. In doing so, we move toward including all history in American history. America’s future only gets better the more we understand our different yesterdays and strive for a shared tomorrow.

If you’ve ever been an athlete, an artist, or an entrepreneur, you know the value of a growth mindset. You never want to be done getting better, because that’s the beginning of the end. That’s why, regardless of our individual race or politics, Juneteenth becomes a day to imagine what America can be, not just what it once was. Freedom is a living value only made stronger by sharing it with more people.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, June 19, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. Joe musich says

    Thanks…Ms Mosley’s name never entered my consciousness during my first 18 years of life in Bingtown. I would love to a photo of the dedication stone or plaque for Ms Mosley. Thank you.

  2. Beautiful column

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