Juneteenth – Another Independence Day

“Juneteenth is the celebration of African American freedom and achievement and the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ñ which had become official on January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance”. Texas became the last state to learn of the confederate surrender and the freeing of slaves.

June 19th which was shortened to “Juneteenth” among celebrants, has become the African American addendum to our national Independence Day. The Emancipation Proclamation did not bring about emancipation, and the prevailing portrayal of Independence Day ignores the ignominious incidence of slavery entirely. Although initially associated with Texas and other Southern states, the Civil Rights Era and the Poor People’s March to Washington in 1968, in particular, helped spread the tradition all across America. Typical activities included prayer, speeches, recitation of slave stories, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, dances, games and plenty of food.

The state of Texas made Juneteenth an official state holiday on January 1, 1980 and several states have since issued proclamations recognizing the holiday. Juneteenth is promoted not only as a commemoration of African American freedom, but as an example and encouragement of self-development and respect for all cultures.

For all its historical past and cultural significance, today African Americans are looking to change their future rather than focus on the past. The National Association of the NAACP is embracing that very mindset and is focusing on economic and social justice issues building upon the civil rights struggles of the past. Juneteenth is a day of reflection, a day of renewal, a pride-filled day. It is a moment in time taken to appreciate the African American experience. It is inclusive of all races, ethnicities and nationalities. Juneteenth is a day on which honor and respect is paid for the sufferings of slavery. It is a day on which we acknowledge the evils of slavery and its aftermath. We think about that moment in time when the enslaved in Galveston, Texas received word of their freedom. We imagine the depth of their emotions who had only known America as a place of servitude and oppression, their jubilant dance and their fear of the unknown.

On Juneteenth celebrations are held for the young and old to come together to listen, to learn and to refresh the drive to achieve. It is a day where we all take one step closer together, to better utilize the energy wasted on racism. This is the day that beckons us to build a more just society. Juneteenth is a day that we pray for peace and liberty for all.

Laurie Perry-Henry