Celebrate “Juneteenth” on June 19! (by Rebecca Long)
The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862. It contained these words: “On the first day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
As noble as President Lincoln’s intentions were, his efforts did not free all the slaves on New Year’s Day. On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the news had finally traveled to Galveston, Texas, where Union General Gordon Granger wrote General Order #3. It read, “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 free laborer.”
On the day June 19, 1865, the last 250,000 slaves were given their freedom. “Juneteenth” was born, a portmanteau of ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth,’ as the oldest African-American holiday observance. Think of Juneteenth as America’s “Second Independence Day.” The Emancipation Proclamation did not do its duty; it failed to deliver 250,000 people from shackles.
Mississippi was the 36th state to commemorate June 19 as “Juneteenth Freedom Day,” as a result of Senator Willie Simmons’ 2010 S.C.R. 605. As of February 15, 2012, 40 states have given this day the acknowledgement it deserves. In 1980, Texas was the first state to affirm Juneteenth as an official state holiday, and remains the only state to have done so. Since 1997, the U.S. Congress has passed seven joint resolutions recognizing Juneteenth, plus an apology for slavery (2000), another for lynching (2005), and another for Jim Crow (2008). These apologies cannot undo the past, but they have hopefully begun to heal some of our country’s war wounds.
Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D. is from Belzoni, Mississippi and has been instrumental in raising awareness of Juneteenth and other African-American issues. He’s the founder and chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) and of the National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC), chairman of National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign, and former Chairman of the Board of National Association of Juneteenth Lineage (NAJL). He has been as passionate and committed to the idea of Juneteenth as anyone on Earth.
“Juneteenth has never been celebrated in the White House,” states Dr. Myers. Thousands of petitions [sic] have been sent to the White House urging President Barack Obama to make Juneteenth a National Day of Observance. Dr. Myers has said, “We are not asking for a paid federal holiday, which will be a burden on our tax-payers, but a National Day of Observance like Flag Day or Patriot Day.”
“As a U.S. Senator from Illinois, President Obama successfully sponsored legislation to recognize Juneteenth Independence Day in the U.S. Senate in 2006,” continues Dr. Myers. “We hope that not only will President Obama issue a Juneteenth Proclamation and support legislation to make Juneteenth Independence Day a National Day of Observance, but also lead the nation in healing from the legacy of enslavement.”
On Friday, June 22nd, a parade will be held in Oxford in observance of Juneteenth. It will begin at 7 pm at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Washington Avenue, head down Price Street to Molly Barr Road, and will end at the same spot it began.
The following day, on Saturday, June 23rd (from 4 – 8 pm), the Martin Luther King community (Oxford’s “Freedmen Town”), will be holding a FREE event for the entire Oxford community. Brandy Rucker let us know there will be number of activities for kids, including a waterslide, a moon bounce, an art tent, and more. There will be free food and drinks for all who attend (nothing for sale!), from over 30 vendors. Entertainment will also be provided all evening, including the Panola County Steppers, Jerome Smith, Elsie Burt (jazz), Derrick Redmond (country), and more!