The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, became effective on January 1, 1863. The Proclamation declared, in part, that all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…. Yet, in Texas, the most remote of the slave states, with little Union presence, the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation was slow and inconsistent. On June 19, 1865, almost two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation became effective, Union General Gordon Granger, read the federal orders in Galveston, Texas, announcing and confirming that “all enslaved people (including in Texas) were free.”
Beginning in 1866, freed African Americans in Texas began commemorating the end of slavery with annual “Freedom Day” celebrations. Since then, in recognition of liberation from slavery, “Juneteenth” (also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Cel-Liberation Day) is celebrated annually on June 19th. While Juneteenth has been celebrated in America for over a century, it was during the Civil Rights movement that Juneteenth gained prominence in many States as a celebration to commemorate freedom from slavery. Then, in 1980, the Texas legislature made June 19th (“Juneteenth”) an official state holiday. Currently, 46 states and the District of Columbia identify June 19th as a holiday or a day of observance.
Liberty is often defined as the power to act as one chooses and the state of being free. Being free, with the power and ability to act as one chooses, is often taken for granted these days. Yet, history serves as a powerful reminder that the “power to act as one chooses” or the “state of being free” should not be taken for granted because it has not always been a given.
Juneteenth is a celebration of liberty and any celebration of freedom is a celebration for humanity. As the incomparable Justice Thurgood Marshall said, “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” We are all human and should celebrate the attainment of liberty for all regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. The fabric of our country is made from our racial, cultural, and ethnic differences, which have been intertwined over generations of marriage and reproduction. “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” (Audre Lorde, Author and Activist).
In celebration and honor of Juneteenth, we must stand together against all forms of discrimination, intolerance, and hatred, by embracing and celebrating our differences while fighting to protect liberty and justice for all. While we have come a long way since June 19, 1865, we still have work to do.