My writing

Why Celebrate Juneteenth?

When President Trump scheduled his first rally for it’s original date of June 19, people were astonished and confused. They considered it a veiled attack on the African-American community because it was on a date that has come to be known as Juneteenth. A few days later, he changed to date so as to avoid the appearance of being sensitive to the concerns of African-Americans. I have no doubt that a large part of the country were stunned at the outcry and the date change having no idea what Juneteenth represents. I know what it represents since I moved to Texas, and I hope the president will acknowledge that in his rally on June 20th.
That being said, it took me a while to understand the meaning behind the date after I moved to Texas. I came here to go to school and I spent most summers back home in Illinois, so I never experienced any of the celebrations taking place in the black community. The first summer after I married, I may have seen some news articles about picnics on June 19th, but no one explained why the date was important, nor did I ask. Eventually, I asked my wife what the big deal about Juneteenth was. In case you haven’t heard or discovered the meaning, it was on this day in 1865 that Union soldiers landed in Galveston and let those still kept in slavery know that they were free.
It’s taken me a while to understand the full impact of that event, because I grew up with an understanding of the Emancipation Proclamation as the document that freed the slaves. Later I came to realize that the proclamation only applied to slaves in rebellious areas, but my understanding of the situation was that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves were free. The problem that took me a long time to realize is that since the slave states didn’t recognize pronouncements from Washington, the people living in them may not have gotten the message. And, if word got around to the slaves about the proclamation, their masters didn’t greet that with joy and exultation, but with violence and threats of violence. As other states were occupied by Union soldiers, the news got out. Texas was the last state to get that message and the result is that Juneteenth is a reminder of the fall of the last outpost for legalized slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth has since been celebrated by the African-American community as a reminder of freedom. Both Presidents Bush and Obama made proclamations in support of Juneteenth celebrations. President Bush knew of them because of his Texas connection, and President Obama understood the meaning because of his heritage. President Trump probably had no knowledge of the meaning of the day until his ill-advised rally date became public knowledge. There are those who would confine the holiday to a celebration for African-Americans, and yet, that short-sighted view fails to take into account the deeper meaning of what happened on that day for the Anglo community. Juneteenth not only recognizes the freedom that former slaves finally obtained, but those of us in the Anglo community should recognize that when this last stronghold of slavery was destroyed, it freed us from the stain of upholding slavery in any way, shape, or form.
In the discussion about this day, some have proposed that Juneteenth become a national holiday. Texas first recognized Juneteenth as a holiday in 1979. It’s celebrated in some states either as an official or an unofficial holiday as well. While we can recognize why African-Americans celebrate this day, the question then becomes why should other Americans celebrate this day and why should it be a national holiday? Perhaps people of all ethnic persuasions should celebrate this day because it was on this day that we all became free. As the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is often quoted as saying, “No one is free until we all are free.” While we still deal with problems of racism and even modern day slavery, this day is a reminder that we can all be free, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Those who were enslaved saw the release from physical bondage. May that be an example for all to be freed from the metaphorical chains of hatred and racism that keep us from the greatness we could achieve as a nation. We should celebrate the freedom of others and seek it for ourselves. Juneteenth should be a day when we’re reminded not only of man’s inhumanity to man that was shown in slavery, but the hope that we can become an even greater nation because we seek freedom for all people.