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Juneteenth 2020

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Juneteenth 2020

I am reading-up on Juneteenth. I knew a little—not a lot—just the basic history. But I seriously had thought that it was a “black peoples’ thing.”

Juneteenth is an “ethnic day” for African Americans, the Google Search says. It stands for emancipation and freedom. It is subtitled with those very words: “June 19: Emancipation Day or Freedom Day.” Let’s get real—I’m a white guy who has taken ideas like emancipation and freedom pretty much for granted my whole life. I usually salute these American values on the Fourth of July while enjoying a fresh-grilled hot dog, lighting a sparkler and capping the day with a patriotic concert and fireworks.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when African Americans in Texas first learned of their freedom from slavery under the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln, taking effect January 1, 1863 (nearly two and a half years earlier!).

On June 19, 1865, months after Robert E. Lee's surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, federal troops under command of Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. Granger informed black slaves of their freedom by reading Gen

eral Order #3:

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 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.

From early on, June 19th was named Juneteenth, blending of the words “June” and “nineteenth.” It has celebrated the freedom and or emancipation of enslaved African Americans for more than 150 years. Parades, picnics, dancing, sporting events, music, plays, recounting of stories by former slaves, inspirational speeches, prayer services and reading the Emancipation Proclamation have marked the day. Today fourteen states list Juneteenth as an official holiday, including Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, and Alaska. It is not only observed in the United States but also in other countries.

History books (unfortunately not the ones I grew up with) note that Juneteenth is the oldest of all African American celebrations. What is bringing it home to me in 2020 (and I am sure many others) is that Juneteenth 2020—is being celebrated amidst two pandemics: Covid-19 killing black Americans in extremely disproportionate numbers and the latest outrages in a longline of systematic Racism/White Supremacy regularly murdering young black men and women in the name of law and order.  

I am coming to see that the idea of Juneteenth as an ethnic holiday for blacks is as preposterous a notion as thinking the death-dealing pandemics gripping the United States is only a black problem and not a white one. Juneteenth as an ethnic day for blacks ignores the history of chattel slavery and its lasting impacts on American society: the mass criminalization of people of color, a severe racial wealth gap, food insecurity, and violence against black Americans who are killed by police at more than twice the rate for white Americans. 

If there was ever a time for Juneteenth to become less an ethnic celebration and MORE an American HOLY-day, it is NOW. If there ever was a day for America to name, claim, and impart its founding fundamental principle that all are created equal and repent and seek to amend where and when we are not; if there ever was a day for all Americans to give more than lip service to Martin Luther King Jr.’s speaking profound truth, “No one is free until all are free,” it is THIS Juneteenth and every Juneteenth moving forward. 

Rev. Alfred T. Day, III