This month we celebrate Juneteenth, an event that marked the end of slavery. It’s a day that we as African Americans should pay special homage. We should declare it as the second Independence Day of the year because truly that one event gave us our freedom and provided a first step toward inclusion in the greater American dream.
Let’s talk a bit of history. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, slaves were not set free. Actually, another two and a half years would past before that happened. On June 19, 1865, two months after Confederate General Robert Lee surrendered in Appomattox, Union General Gordon Granger went to Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which in part read: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
As black Americans, we have become complacent as it relates to this event. Many writers, commentators, historians, have weighed in on the reasons, asserting that Juneteenth fell from favor during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and '60s, as African Americans looked more to change their future rather than focus on the past. In years past, Senator Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, but his efforts never gained traction.
Folks, with all that’s going on in America today, we need to step back and refocus. I find the adage, the more things change the more they stay the same, resonating in my head. Indeed we have come a long way, but it pains me to say we have a farther way to go before there’s equality.
Just a couple of years ago President Obama made the following statement commemorating the day: We don't have to look far to see that racism and bigotry, hate and intolerance, are still all too alive in our world. Just as the slaves of Galveston knew that emancipation is only the first step toward true freedom, just as those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago knew their march was far from finished, our work remains undone. For as long as people still hate each other for nothing more than the color of their skin…we cannot honestly say that our country is living up to its highest ideals. But Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. Instead, it's a celebration of progress. It's an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, things do get better. America can change.
Keep praying for that change!