Two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, 2,000 Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to declare that enslaved people in Confederate states were legally free. Until that time, Texas had remained under Confederate rule, this and/or more nefarious actions are thought to have caused the delay.
General Order Number 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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
Since that day, June 19, 1865 has been embraced as a symbol of emancipation and celebrated as Juneteenth. According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, “Juneteenth marks our country’s second independence day. Though it has long been celebrated among the African American community, it is a history that has been marginalized and still remains largely unknown to the wider public.” That must change.
Juneteenth experienced a resurgence during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but now there is growing momentum to create a national holiday. Given recent history and the ways in which our fellow citizens are routinely denied their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, those of us who are White should educate ourselves on the legacy of slavery. African Americans have built their culture in the United States, and have made remarkable contributions to our success—sadly, a success they are not often allowed to share.
Like the celebration of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., marking a date is not wholly adequate. It does, however, confer a weight and formal articulation of respect. It commands that the country as a whole pause and remember, not just the celebration but the continued struggle for human rights, freedom, and what should be the soul of the nation. Celebrations such as these encourage reflection, but also a response, cultural engagement, creative action, and opportunities to fight for justice.
P.S. June is also Pride Month, a time to recognize our LGBTQ family, and the many ways they contribute to our society. Yesterday in a historic ruling, the Supreme Court of the United State affirmed that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.