Juneteenth represents the day that Union Army General Gordon Granger was deployed to Galveston, Texas, to inform a reluctant community that President Abraham Lincoln had freed the slaves after 246 horrific years. (Most recognize 1619 as the year the first 20 Africans were brought to this country to be enslaved). The General announced that slavery had been abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation and that abolition would be enforced.
This news came to those enslaved a full two and a half years AFTER President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all enslaved people free as of January 1, 1863. Texas was the most remote of the slave states and it gave the slave owners the “cover” they needed to maintain the insidious practice of slavery.
As Martin Luther King Jr. so ably put it, “None of us are free unless all of us are free.” Therefore, the date – June 19, celebrated today as a Federal Holiday signals the “real end” of slavery for African American people in America and a cause for deep reflection and celebration.
Historical information dates the first Juneteenth celebration in Texas in 1866. Since then, celebrations have become widespread across the nation. In fact, Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in nearly all of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia.
Celebrations have ranged from major events, street fairs, parties, and parades to small gatherings designed to reflect on what the history of slavery means to our lives today. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented most outdoor celebrations. Instead, you have a range of opportunities to celebrate in small family and friend groups and through Zoom and other online platforms locally and nationally.
I urge you to set aside time today to think about various aspects of Juneteenth:
On this Juneteenth, join me in celebrating the fortitude and resilience of a people who have never given up hope and have always actively pushed this country to live up to its promise of equal opportunity for all.
Happy Juneteenth. Let us always remember the sacrifices of the past, the promise of the future, and our responsibility to do our part to make the world a better place together, no matter our color or history.
*adapted from https://ulgatl.org/juneteenth-message-from-the-urban-league-of-greater-atlanta/