WHAT IS IT?
Many of you remember from high school history class that it was Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that gave slaves their freedom. But what you probably didn’t know was that Lincoln actually issued the Emancipation Proclamation twice. There was a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation issued on September 22nd, 1862. It stipulated that if the Southern states did not cease their rebellion by January 1st, 1863, then Proclamation would go into effect, which it did. But there were over 5 million slaves in the South to be freed, many in Texas because slaveholders would migrate there to get away from the fighting. Because Texas was not a battleground and the slaves there were not affected by the emancipation proclamation.
It was more than two years later, June 19, to be exact, that a Federal army arrived by sea to occupy Texas. General Gordon Granger arrived at the port of Galveston and set about the legal work of establishing order. He announced that the Emancipation Proclamation had now officially taken effect in Texas and that slavery was no more.
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.
So, June 19, 1865 or Juneteenth, as it became known in the South, is the oldest national commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It became one of the best times in the lives of African-Americans. It meant that we could legally be educated and become anything they set out to be. They became teachers, writers, professors, doctors, nurses or engineers, business owners and whatever else they chose to be.
But this was not just supposed to be a win for African-American alone. It was supposed to birth a new identity for all Americans. That we as a people have decided that there would no longer be a divide. That we are all human beings and have a responsibility to treat each other as equals. Times did get harder, and the trial and tribulation came. But we overcame and pressed forward.
Times have change and the progression still continues because there is still work to be done. It was just in the last few years that corporate America recognized African-Americans as still being professional while wearing their hair in its natural state. For years African-American women had to put harmful chemicals in their hair to straighten it to look more like a white woman’s natural hair because it was considered to be a more professional look. We are not our hair and we have minds that would rival and surpass our white counterparts. And it is wonderful to be able to wake up and be comfortable in your own skin without hiding your culture while you are out in the world. It is up to us to continue to forge ahead remembering that there is no glass ceiling. There is nothing that we cannot achieve if we work diligently for it.
Today, Juneteenth commemorates African-American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics, plays, parades and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future.
In years past, Juneteenth was celebrated more in the Southern states and was always considered to be an official holiday in the state of Texas. There are said to be businesses that run on a skeleton crew on June 19th all across the state because of the many celebrations that go on. This day will never be forgotten due to the hard work and persistence of Lula Briggs Galloway (late president of the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage) who successfully worked to bring national recognition to Juneteenth Independence Day, and the continued leadership of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. As of 2008 almost half the states in the US observed the holiday as a ceremonial observance. However, as of May of 2016 when a piece of legislature was approved for Maryland, Juneteenth became an official holiday recognized in D.C. and 45 of the 50 states. (Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire and both North and South Dakota are the five that did not get on board.)
If you own an iPhone, iPad or iPod click on your calendar for today and you will find a surprise. As of this year, 2018, to help bring awareness to this day, Apple added Juneteenth to its calendars in iOS under official US holidays. Thank You Apple.