Thursday, June 19, 2008

163 Years Ago Today - Commemorating Juneteenth

Happy Juneteenth! For those who don't know, Juneteenth commemorates the June 19, 1865 date that slaves in Galveston, Texas were informed of the Emancipation Proclamation by Union General Gordon Granger, who read these words from Gen. Order No. 3:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

In other words, two years after its issuance, the slaves of Texas learned of their freedom. That's worth celebrating, especially if you're a descendant of those slaves.

I had originally planned to do more of a scholarly type post in commemoration of Juneteenth, but time precludes me from doing so at this exact moment. If that's more your thing, you can read my entry from last year;
Know Your History, (And Their's Too). Instead, here's a few thoughts on Juneteenth in general, and it's place in our history.

I have a couple of friends who always ask me, "Why should we celebrate people being late?" The implication being that because it took two years for the news to reach Texas, the slaves themselves were somehow negligent for not knowing that they were free. I always answer that "hey, there was a war going on, and they weren't exactly living in the internet age of instant communications." Besides, the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, itself didn't free many slaves due to the fact that it originally applied only to those states in a state of rebellion against the Union, i.e. those not under Union control. It did however lay the legal foundation for slavery's abolition after the arrival of the Union army in those areas.

Juneteenth is a holiday here in Texas, and is celebrated unofficially all around the country. It's the only acknowledgment on the holiday schedule that recognizes this pivotal event in our history. Yet it's celebrated primarily by Blacks. I understand that, we were the direct beneficiaries of the Proclamation's purpose, but I've always wondered why the Emancipation Proclamation, is not celebrated universally in this country. I believe it's issuance should strike a chord with all Americans, since it marks the beginning of this country's recognizance that "all men are created equal," and set the country on a path towards achieving that goal. True freedom in other words.

This quest for true freedom and equality by Blacks in this country has shaped the character of this nation more than anything else, positively and negatively, in my opinion. As such, I think it should be recognized as an official U.S. holiday.

I grew up in East Texas, where Juneteenth was a pretty big deal. I also lived in Denver for a while, which didn't have a large Black population at all. Yet Denver annually stages one of the biggest Juneteenth celebrations in the U.S. , founded by Texans who had moved to Colorado. There are many other such celebrations around the country as well, particularly here in the Houston/Galveston metro area, Juneteenth's epicenter.

Do you celebrate Juneteenth? If so, how? I'll be updating this post a little later with Juneteenth postings from around the web, and if you see any good ones or have one up yourself, please leave a link in the comments.

Happy Juneteenth y'all.

UPDATED: Here are links to some other posts around the Afrosphere so far.


Villager said...

Excellent post on Juneteenth! My Juneteenth post is up & running now...

Big Tex said...

I'm kind of surprised that Juneteenth is observed outside of Texas. I thought that was pretty much a state holiday, but it's cool to hear that people celebrate it throughout the country.

NeoSoulBrotha said...

There was a well-organized celebration here in Columbus, OH and I had a great time. If I can get some photos from the event I'll upload them.

It's a good opportunity not just to reflect on our history, but also to enjoy the company of other Black people, support our own small businesses, and remember that despite some of the daily conflict we are all in this together.

PurpleZoe said...

Much Respect on your Juneteenth post DP.

Continue to Shine

DP said...

@All - Sorry for the late responses to these comments. It's been that type of week.

Villager - thanks for coming through and great post at your site as well. I'm adding the link.

Big Tex - Yeah it kinda surprised me that the celebration in Denver was so big too. You can find Juneteenth all over the country now.

NeoSoulBrotha - Thanks for coming through and I hope to see those pics soon. What is your site address? I also think Juneteenth should be a holiday all Americans celebrate due to the momentousness of what it commemorates; the end of slavery on this continent.

Purple Zoe - Thank you for coming by and I loved your post as well.

DOC said...

Juneteenth is America’s 2nd Independence Day celebration. Americans of African descent were trapped in the tyranny of enslavement on the country's first "4th of July", 1776, Independence Day. We honor our ancestors, Americans of African descent, who heard the news of freedom and celebrated with great joy and jubilation, on the "19th of June", Juneteenth, 1865.

It took over 88 years for the news of freedom to be announced in Southwest Texas, over two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln.

The National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign has worked diligently for several years to establish legislation in 29 states to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or state holiday observance, the District of Columbia, as well as the Congress of the United States. This has been a great accomplishment for the "Modern Juneteenth Movement" in America, reaching far beyond the establishment of Juneteenth as a state holiday in the place were it all began, in Texas, first celebrated in 1980.

Together we will see Juneteenth become a National Holiday in America!

Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D.
National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign
National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF)
National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC)