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.



True Confession. I am an old fuddy duddy. We don’t do a lot of celebrating in our family. I have a few ideas how we got to that point, but I’m at the point where I don’t look forward to birthdays. When family asked why, I told them that the reason is that I reflect on all that I’ve accomplished in life and realize how far it is from what I’ve planned to have accomplished. My sibings have taken me to the woodshed for this comment, as has my wife. As I thought more about it, I realized that another reasons birthdays are not high on my list is that there’s not a lot special because we don’t really do anything special on birthdays. We go out to eat. We go out to eat at other times, so that isn’t a big deal anymore. It’s anti-climactic and disappointing.

I’m one of those people that thought graduating from Kindergarten was no big deal. I’d roll my eyes when people talked about their child graduating from Kinder. Big deal, right? Today, I attended the Kinder graduation of a student I mentor. I have seen the light. This celebration opened my eyes because I saw how excited the kids were as they talked about getting ready for first grade. They were excited about what they’d accomplished and were excited about going to first grade. When you think about where kids start in Kinder and how much they grow and learn in the first year of school, it’s an amazing accomplishment! I realized then that we need to do more celebrating of education rather than less. Based on our school set up, we ought to celebrate PK, K, 5, 8, and 12th grade gaduations. Each of them is an important milestone and passage. Maybe if we celebrated those more, we’d see more kids staying excited about their education.

The graduating Kinder class of 2019.

As I’m writing this, another celebration is in planning: my 40th anniversary and my wife’s doctoral graduation. I’ll be posting this after the celebration because, as far as I know, this is going to be a surprise for my wife. What’s even more interesting is that, being used to people not showing up to parties or things like that when we tried to hold them in the past, people are wanting to show up and seem to be excited about this celebration. We won’t have a lot of entertainment. My son in law and daughter will be helping to do a few fun things. We’ll have food – although I’ll tell that story later. The most important thing for us is being with friends. We’re looking forward to a good time. At least I am. I hope my wife will enjoy this. I hope she’ll stay with me for another year after this.

UPDATE: I thought it only fair to tell you that I lied to and deceived my wife. She thought she was going to one of my former student’s graduation parties. I panicked when I saw that we were parking next to a familiar truck. She didn’t notice. I heard someone say “they’re coming” as we walked past the windows. We opened the door and Lucy was fully, totally, and completely surprised! We had a lot of fun as we shared anecdotes from other weddings, talked about favorite teachers, and offered advice for newlyweds – or relayed advice we found helpful. Most interesting wedding story: the lady whose hair caught on fire! The usher noticed it so quickly, and put it out so fast that even she didn’t know it had happened. (Back in a ‘big hair’ era.) I don’t know if it was the best advice, but the most interesting advice came from a 12 year old girl: “Stay single.”

As to the food story, my daughter almost used this same place to cater her wedding. We had friends who were vegetarians, though, and she thought that a taco bar might be a bit better since you could do a lot with a vegetarian taco. She told me this would be a good place for a party to celebrate her mom’s doctorate. So, we ended up at the Bottomless Pit BBQ place. The food was good an it was a good place to be.