On June 19th every year, people take time to honor the anniversary of Juneteenth—the date in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Texas. (As part of the Confederacy, slaves in that state were not freed until well after the end of the Civil War.)
That summer, Union Army troops reached Galveston Bay with word that the war had ended—and that all slaves now were free.
Freedom from Slavery
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free…”–General Orders, Number 3
That announcement came 2 ½ years after President Lincoln had issued the proclamation. Texas was the farthest west of the confederate states, and the news hadn’t reached the approximately 250,000 slaves who lived there.
On June 19, Union General Gordon Granger led more than 2,000 troops into Galveston Bay—where he publicly read General Order Number 3. Historians tell us the news was received with both shock and julibation in Galveston. Upon hearing the announcement, some people responded with prayer, singing, dancing and feasting.
But as historian and literary scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes, Juneteenth wasn’t an instant celebration for all slaves in Texas. Many plantation owners delayed sharing the news and complying with the order. The announcement did, however, eventually lead to establishing June 19 as the country’s most popular celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation—also known as America’s second Independence Day.
A New Holiday
As Gates writes, starting the following year, newly freed slaves “transformed June 19 from a day of unheeded military orders into their own annual rite, ‘Juneteenth.’” Over the years since, the anniversary commemoration has grown in popularity.
For many, observing the day involves dressing up and getting together with family and friends. People celebrate in a variety of ways, including prayer and religious services, gatherings and picnics, speeches and educational events—and parties with music, food and dancing.
Although not a federal holiday, most states and the District of Columbia now recognize it as a holiday or observance. It’s also a day for us to reflect on what else was stated in General Order Number 3.
“… 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.”–General Orders, Number 3
Although the concept that “all men are created equal” was a long-held American ideal, it had hardly been extended to include all Americans. In that regard, the Emancipation Proclamation was just the beginning of a long road—one that we’re still on as a nation.
As President Lincoln wrote when he signed the document, he sincerely believed the proclamation to be “an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution.” He also invoked “the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God,” in signing the proclamation. Simply stated—he felt it was the right thing to do.
Why Juneteenth Matters Now
Today Juneteenth “celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.” As you can learn on www.juneteenth.com, the day is “taking on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective.” As celebrations grow each year, Juneteenth is becoming a national day of pride.
That’s important because our country has grappled with racism since its inception. This summer’s protests have brought attention to this ongoing challenge—but it certainly isn’t a new one. Racial inequality is an issue that hasn’t been clearly or fully addressed in the 155 years since the end of the Civil War. The demonstrations and marches of 2020 represent a new development in the American fight for a more equitable society. As a country, we’ve got a lot of work yet to do.
FRCC’s President Andy Dorsey recently sent a message to our college staff saying that, for him, “Juneteenth has sparked reflections on the legacy of slavery and the impacts of ongoing discrimination and injustice in the United States—and how we can individually and collectively make our college and our country more inclusive, equitable and just.”
What Can Each of Us Do?
So here’s a small way to get started this Friday as we celebrate Juneteenth. Take a little time to do some research about our history of racial inequality in the US. Learn something new about the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War. If you’re anything like me, there’s a lot you don’t remember from the history classes you may (or may not) have taken on the subject.
Consider moving on to learn more about the era of segregation and Jim Crow laws that began in the late 19th century. If you’re feeling inspired, move on to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s to study what progress was made—and think about what still needs to be done.
Are there other actions you can take—big or small—to help make our community a more equitable and just place? Absolutely. There are steps we can all take in the right direction.
Each of us can think about our own unintentional biases—and try to be conscious enough of them to act more equitably. We can offer help to others when we see injustice around us. We can all be a support and an ally to our friends, neighbors, colleagues and people in our communities who need it.
And don’t be shy. Let your friends, family, acquaintances—and your social media contacts—know that you stand firmly against racism and discrimination in all its forms.
Standing Strong Together
As a community—and a society—we can commit ourselves to creating a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. We stand strongest when we stand together.
Welcoming. Respectful. Inclusive.
Together, we are FRCC.