Juneteenth was first celebrated 150 years ago and still matters today
Juneteenth, a mashup of June and nineteenth, is a worldwide celebration of the emancipation of slaves. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger established what is now a popular holiday among Blacks and it still matters.
From Galveston, Texas, the general issued the following order:
“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.”
Black folks did what we do best. We partied. Spontaneous celebrations were had everywhere. Whether they were doing a Holy Ghost dance or a hustle appropriate for the times, our ancestors understood the magnitude of such a decree. The Holy Ghost dancing continues, but we’re not partying so much. We’re seeking answers.
Organizations and individuals are using Juneteenth to honor the shooting victims of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting who lost their lives on June 17, 2015 at the hands of a white supremacist. The pain is simply too raw for us to party.
President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. Made effective on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Slaveowners were given 100 days to comply. They didn’t have the benefit of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, so it took time for word to spread throughout the state to each town.
The Texas order to free the remaining slaves serves as a basis for Juneteenth. Freedom has come at a cost no different than slavery cost us with the lynching and the unceasing maltreatment. But we survive and hold our heads high. And we forgive. Many of us forgot. The nine Mother Emanuel church victims (Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Twyanza Sanders, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Myra Thompson and Cynthia Hurd), Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, Freddie Gray and countless others, too many to name, remind us we have a lot of work to do. Racism is deep-rooted.
Texas led the way in making Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980. Today, Juneteenth is celebrated in more than 40 states throughout the country. Perhaps if Congress recognized Juneteenth as a national holiday, individuals like the mass murderer behind the Charleston Church Massacre would be educated on the importance of human dignity and that all lives matter.
Every June, Galveston hosts several days of festivities to celebrate Juneteenth. As we recognize the 150 years of Juneteenth, there is a teardrop to fill every inch of the 1,113.5 travel miles from Galveston, Texas to Charleston, South Carolina, mourning the loss of Black lives just two days ago and around the world.