I am in my seventh decade of life, and I am passionate about civil rights and what it means to celebrate freedom.
How to Be an Ally on Juneteenth
Juneteenth is a day when black people celebrate freedom from slavery. We celebrate Juneteenth each year on June 19. All across America, Black people celebrate the day with parades and events. Juneteenth carries a deep meaning for Black people, and we want White people to understand the struggles we face as we continue the fight for equal rights.
This year, as we celebrate Juneteenth, Black and Brown people would like White People to stand with us and shine the light on the injustice of racism. We believe a united America is a powerful America.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day. On June 19, 1865, Union Soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of the Civil War and slavery. Although President Abraham Lincoln had freed the slaves two years earlier, Texas refused to comply with the order.
Why Did the News of Freedom Take So Long to Reach Texas?
No one knows why it took more than two years for news of the abolition of slavery in the United States to reach Texas. According to Juneteenth.com, some accounts blame the delay on the murder of the messenger while on his way to Texas. Other accounts say the news was deliberately withheld.
According to an article by Henry Louis Gates Jr., when New Orleans fell, many slave traders traveled to Texas with their slaves to escape regulations enforced by the Union Army in other states. It was the responsibility of slave owners to tell their slaves about the news, and some purposely delayed relaying the information until after the harvest.
The First Juneteenth
On the first Juneteenth, the District Headquarters of Galveston, Texas, published the following orders:
“The people of Texas are informed that, by a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
By the time Granger assumed command of the Department of Texas, the Confederate capital in Richmond had fallen. The “Executive” to whom he referred, President Abraham Lincoln, was dead; and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was on its way to ratification.
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We may never know why it took two and a half years for Texas slave owners to learn that the slaves had been freed. What we do know is that the 250,000 Texas slaves were not magically freed on June 19, 1865. Those slaves who acted on the news of freedom did so at their peril. Many were hanged on trees for refusing to work. Many others were forced back to the fields under the scourge of a whip.
In 1979 Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Since then, 41 other states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday. Juneteenth is important to Black people because it reminds us of the cost of freedom.
6 Things White People Can Do on Juneteenth
Racism is still alive in America. I am now at the ripe age of seventy years old. I have seen my share of racism. But it does not compare to what my ancestors experienced. The consensus among Black people is the way to end racism is by educating White people about Juneteenth. There are six things that Black people want White people to do on Juneteenth to help us celebrate freedom.
1. Think About the Wounds Inflicted on the Hearts and Minds of Black People
This Juneteenth, we want White people to think about the wounds inflicted on the hearts and minds of Black people. We are not asking for any special favors. We desire that White people try to understand the pain associated with slavery that still lives in the hearts and minds of Black people not only in America but around the world.
2. Stop Talking About How Uncomfortable It Is for Them to Talk About Slavery and Racism
We celebrate Juneteenth to honor the lives of slaves that longed to see freedom and those who made freedom a reality. We celebrate the mothers who prayed for their children to cross the river to freedom. We celebrate the fathers and young black men who were hung for simply wanting to be free. Most of all, we celebrate freedom itself. Slavery is a part of American history. We must not forget it. Racism is still alive in America. To end it, White people must stop telling us how uncomfortable it is for them to talk about slavery and racism. We must talk about slavery to relieve the pain and fears of the past.
3. Read About Black History and Black Contributions to America
Everyone knows that the America we live in was built on the backs of Black slaves. But many White people know nothing about the many contributions of Black people in America. This Juneteenth, we want White people to learn about the real Black people who dedicated themselves and their lives to building the America we see today.
4. Stop Talking About Racism and Stand With Us to End It
Black people are tired of arguing with disingenuous White people who have no skin in the game. When we say “Black lives matter,” hypocritical White people respond with “all lives matter.” Racism is alive and thriving in America, but it’s time to stop talking about the evils of racism and do something about this evil demon. We are thankful for the many White people who joined in the Black Lives Matter movement, but we need more White people to understand the evils of racism.
5. Hold Other White People Accountable
When we see injustice, we have got to stop being partial. It is no longer up to White people to decide what is and is not racism. This Juneteenth, we want White people to listen to Black people and people of color when we say something is innately racist instead of making excuses and upholding the words, actions, and systems that defend racism.
Celebrate, Don’t Instigate
Incredibly, it has taken America so long to acknowledge the memorialization of such a landmark moment in America’s history. Although Juneteenth legally marked the end of enforced, free labor for Black people in America, the history of institutionalized racism and economic disenfranchisement continued through the Jim Crow years up until the Civil Rights Movement.
Juneteenth commemorates liberation. It calls to mind the resilience and progress of the Black community in America since June 19, 1865. Juneteenth provides an opportunity for all Americans, not just Black Americans, to think about how we engage with our history. For Black Americans, Juneteenth is an opportunity to celebrate our strength, despite the obstacles we have already overcome. So this Juneteenth, take a moment to honor the truth and look at our community. On this day, let us find strength in each other.
Happy Juneteenth, America.