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Today is Juneteenth

Until this year, June 19th was just another day for me. I don’t like to think of myself as uninformed but, well, that’s exactly what I was. I had always assumed that once the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, all the slaves in the United States were freed. I don’t ever recall hearing anything otherwise about it in my History class at school. And I always thought that’s what was supposed to happen, wasn’t it?

Because it's been in the news (and because I realized how uninformed I actually was), I wanted to learn about what actually occurred and what is significant about this day. I went online to do my research and found that it wasn’t until 2 ½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed that the last of the slaves were freed. Since the Civil War was still being fought until 1865, President Lincoln was not viewed as the leader of the eleven Southern States who had seceded from the Union in 1860. But after General Robert E. Lee surrendered in April 1865, and the Civil War ended, the news was delivered.

On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, General Gordon Granger read General Order Number 3 which stated: “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.” Imagine the shock of hearing these words and many wondered what they actually meant. Many of the now former slaves didn’t have anywhere to go but left their plantations anyway just to experience true freedom. Also imagine, wrapping your mind around making a new life for yourself in a world where there really was no favorable status as a black person. Some went to look for other family members who had been previously sold to plantations in other States. Some journeyed to the North where they thought conditions would be more favorable for them.

Juneteenth has been celebrated every year since 1865. It is also known as Emancipation Day, Juneteenth Independence Day and Black Independence Day. “Juneteenth has always been particularly special for African Americans,” said Julian Hayter, a historian and an associate professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “It’s this critical inflection point in the Black freedom struggle.” Hayter also sums it up well for me when he says, “The fact that many Americans don’t know what Juneteenth is, is exactly why we’re at this space right now. This is seen as an addendum to American history, these are footnotes, yet they’re critical turning points for the country as a whole. If the things that are happening right now have any significance, I think it might be the first time where people recognize the importance of this holiday outside the African American community and more as an American point of reflection."

Ref: Juneteenth.com, Battlefields.org, nbcnews.com

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