United Airlines released a pair of videos to commemorate Juneteenth, offering a profound look at the progress we have made, even while our work toward a more perfect Union remains unfinished. The words of Opal Lee send a powerful message to all of us.
United Airlines Honors Juneteenth With Special Flight And Focus On Opal Lee
Many workers in the United States are enjoying a day off today in honor of Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States and now a federal holiday. While Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed all slaves in the Confederacy, it was more than two years until the news reached slaves in Texas. Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 bringing word to thousands of slaves that they no longer were under bondage.
The former slaves reacted in jubilee, celebrating with prayer, hymns, and spiritual songs. This moment in time has been celebrated annually since it happened, but only became a federal holiday in 2021.
United Airlines released a pair of videos to mark this holiday. Both center on 95-year-old Opal Lee, who played a pivotal role in making Juneteenth a federal holiday. One video begins with a United airlines pilot speaking:
“To read history is one thing. To know history is duty. But to live and speak with history, is just the ultimate honor I could have.”
It then shifts to Lee, who explains:
“You see, when I was growing up, the only airplane I saw was the one overhead. But the young people, they have the opportunity to actually fly the planes. I’m delighted with the progress they’ve made. I’d tell every child, that’s on this United Airlines flight, if people can be taught to hate they can be taught to love.”
Lee was referring to a special Juneteenth flight United Airlines ran last week from its hub in Houston (IAH) that featured 100 school children from “disadvantaged communities” onboard, many flying for the first time:
As for Lee’s message above, amen. What a powerful testimony that love can triumph over hate and that even though the journey to racial equality is not over, the USA has made great strides.
What I love about Lee’s words and about the spirit of this video is that it revels in the progress we have made. We can celebrate that today. We’re such a negative culture, drowning in lament about the shape and progress of our nation on both sides of the political spectrum.
But can we stop, just for today at least, and recognize how much progress has been made? No matter your political party or persuasion, I hope we, as a nation, can recognize that black Americans are worthy of the same dignity, respect, and opportunity as any other citizen. Furthermore, we can recognize that such opportunities have been shamefully withheld from many over our history and that the lingering effects of that can still be felt today.
But finally, we can recognize that black Americans have opportunities today that Lee’s generation could only dream of? Let’s celebrate the fact that this nation is reconciling the past every time a young black person earns their wings and takes to the skies.
What I appreciate about United’s “Good Leads The Way” campaign is that it does focus on the positive. In a world that is so negative, I am proud to be an American on this Juneteenth and celebrate that skin color no longer necessarily limits aspiring pilots or flight attendants from fulfilling their dreams.
Be sure to watch the longer video United produced with Opal Lee as well, which tells the story of how she became the primary driver for making Juneteenth a federal holiday.