Freedom came late for slaves in Texas.
Almost three years after the Emancipation Proclamation, advancing troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, where their leader pronounced General Order No. 3, a proclamation of their freedom on June 19,1865. Nearly three years earlier, President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862, had actually granted enslaved Black men, women and children their freedom.
Freedom and Resistance
As word of the proclamation filtered down to slaves, the security of whites in the South and maintenance of its stable economy became major issues. The Confederate war effort could not sustain successfully without slave labor on the battlefields, in the cottonfields and on other farms. As slaves gradually became aware of their freedom, the picture of slavery took a whole new dramatic twist. Slaves walked off plantations and away from bondage whenever Union troops—and the “safety” they brought—were near.
Slave owners attempted to refugee their slaves or “run the Negroes,” meaning they removed the slaves from the Union lines hiding them from federal troops, which is how so many slaves came to Texas from southern states. It was a deliberate act of some enslavers to withhold this information from their enslaved people to keep them on as an unpaid labor force.
Knowledge Is Power
Knowing history opens the door to the future; Black history is too important to be left out. Black history is American history. Juneteenth honors the end of slavery in the United States of America and is recognized as the longest living holiday for Black Americans. By marking this day of major significance in American history, Juneteenth has always been a day of remembrance and an opportunity for Black Americans to honor their history and celebrate their culture.
A Celebration Apart
In fact, Confederate states had little interest in recognizing Juneteenth. The grass roots of Juneteenth celebrations were hidden from white gaze well into the 20th century. This segregation of celebration contributed to the holiday going unnoticed by most Americans outside the Black community.
Black Pride Gaining Ground
The Black Power Movement helped spark a renewed interest, celebrating culture, pride, identity and reclaiming history. With this resurgence, it still is rarely mentioned in company holiday celebrations, school holidays or even in the curriculum. As a result of this, this important holiday has been largely unknown to most Americans. Since the murder of George Floyd, however, Juneteenth has gained prominence amid racial reckoning.
Reflection and Celebration
As we embark on this day, Black communities around the country will be celebrating this holiday, remembering their enduring fight for freedom and celebrating the resilience of their Black ancestors.
This day serves as an opportunity not only to reflect on the oppression and subjugation of Black people for centuries but to also celebrate the progress experienced since that jubilant day in 1865 when the last people enslaved were told of their freedom.
Making a Jubilant Noise
In celebration of this historic event, Black families traditionally enjoy red foods to symbolize the perseverance of the enslaved ancestors. Many also throw cookouts and BBQs, gather in parades, attend rodeos headlining Black cowboys and cowgirls, shoot fireworks, organize pageants, attend local Juneteenth events, pray together as families and sing spirituals.
Juneteenth Celebration & Events: All to be shared with everyone, not just Black families.
Focus on the Future
Black student excellence is also a major part of this celebratory time. During the months of May and June, students are matriculating and graduating. In the Black community, education is seen as an economic lifeline.
Black excellence is used to support Black people to be the best version of themselves in spite of the many disparities and challenges faced as a community of people. Affirming and empowering Black students is a good thing and prepares them for success in America.
Rooting Out Racism
Unfortunately, at some point in their lives many students either experience or will encounter subliminal racism. When America admits to its mistakes and begins to celebrate the heroes of Black history then excellence becomes American excellence—inspiring students to reach their greatest potential by leading movements, creating new enterprises, fighting for freedom and solving previously unsolvable problems.
Joy Is the Goal
Only when we all make room for every student to learn and grapple with America’s shameful past, can we all find joy that is an essential part of this day. There are other celebrated emancipation holidays—each having its own traditions and celebration, and each sharing in conflict and confusion.
Juneteenth is not only a day to celebrate but to also speak out.
* Speak out about the complexities of America’s history.
* Speak about how Americans share the ideals of freedom and equality, that we as Americans all-too-often fall short of but that are essential to the continued health of the Republic.
Juneteenth falls closest to the summer solstice—the longest day of the year, when the sun at its zenith defies darkness in every part of this nation—including the southern states that were once shadowed by slavery. As Ralph Ellison wrote in his novel Juneteenth, “We remember the shining promise of emancipation along with the bloody path America took by delaying it an deferring fulfillment of those simple words in General Granger’s Order No. 3: that ‘This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between masters and slaves.’”
When we share the stories of terrors and triumphs and struggles and salvation of the past, we learn and can grow together as Americans. There is much work to be done, but we can achieve the goals imagined at our country’s birth through a clear-eyed look at the past and a shared sense of purpose for a future jubilee of equality and equity.