Today we celebrate Juneteenth, a day of freedom and optimism.
“Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are,” Former President Barack Obama said in a tweet. “It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible––and there is still so much work to do.
Obama’s words are a soothing reflection of the ongoing fight for racial justice in the US, which gives more meaning to this day.
Juneteenth, a linguistic blend of June and Nineteenth, was declared on June, 19th 1865, to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States; it was a joyous day, but two years late.
News about the Emancipation Proclamation reached slaves in Galveston Tx. two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law on January 1, 1863.
Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and delivered the belated news; the Civil War had ended; all enslaved African Americans were free because President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
“[juneteenth] is a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible––and there is still so much work to do- President barack obama
Explanations for why it took two years for the great news to reach the slaves vary widely. Some say the messenger met death before delivering the message; another explanation is a conspiracy of silence between the slave owners and the federal troops to allow them one last cotton harvest using free slave labor, according to Juneteeth.com.
Regardless of the explanation, it was welcome news when Gen. Granger landed in Galveston and delivered the following message, according to the National Archives report retrieved from former President Barack Obama’s White House website.
“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.”
Plantation owners received the announcement with hostility and resisted granting freedom to their slaves and confusion and hesitation reigned among slaves who had never experienced freedom their entire lives, unsure of what to do next.
In the end, the slaves embraced their freedom and marched toward their uncertain future, with little help from the government.
Juneteenth celebrations have evolved over the years to include creating awareness on issues that affect Black people, parades, food, prayer, and music that promote black culture, according to History.com.
The 2020 commemoration comes at a time when protests have broken out in major cities in the US against institutional racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd.
With high racial tension across the nation, it did not help matters when President Donald Trump — mostly negatively perceived in the African American community — announced he’d hold his first rally since the national shutdown due to Coronavirus on Juneteeth, in Tulsa Ok.
Tulsa is the venue of the 1921 race riot that destroyed Black Wall Street.
An uproar against Trump rally plans forced his campaign to change plans moving the rally, critics call ill-advised because of the raging Coronavirus pandemic, a day later.
On his part, Trump took credit for making Juneteenth famous.
“I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous,” Trump said according to a USA Today report. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”
It might be true that Trump created a larger awareness of Juneteenth, a holiday that is largely celebrated within the African American community, however, there is no evidence Trump knew about it either.
Trump is known for making blanket assertions that something is unknown even though it’s widely known. Maybe Trump was just speaking of his ignorance.
On Juneteenth day, Trump fired out a tweet Friday warning protestors from disrupting his upcoming Tulsa rally.
“Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!” Trump said in an early-morning tweet on Juneteenth day.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration for ending slavery in the US according to the Obama White House archives report; it’s, however, not recognized as a federal holiday.
It’s time to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
Editor’s note: Maurice O. Ndole contributed to this report.