Freedom. I am of the position that freedom is more a state of mind than a state of being. It must therefore be celebrated regularly to be actualized in the life of the free and exercised by means of shared celebration with and among the community of the free.
The right to celebrate. While not granted nor guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, it is indeed an inalienable right that, when celebrated, is protected.
Sunday, 19 June 1865, enslaved Black people in Texas and all over the South in particular, arose, bathed, dressed and went to Church under the watchful gaze of plantation owners, confederate soldiers, and other whites, but, on this day, something was different. Although they had not been informed, within their spirit they knew something, although unclear and unknown, was different.
Upon arriving to their houses of worship, they heard a message that informed them that nearly two-and-a-half years prior, President Abraham Lincoln had passed the Emancipation Proclamation outlawing slavery in the United States of America. Without radio, television, or the Internet, and all of the associated services that we enjoy today (email, social media, free International [VOIP] and domestic calls on our smartphones), news traveled very slowly; particularly since it (the news) was controlled by the “ruling class”. They heard that Major General Gordon Granger had proclaimed in Galveston, Texas, in General Order Number 03, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” The entire text can be found here The End of Slavery in Texas: A Research Note on JSTOR.
Nothing much changed on the outside. Plantation owners and slave masters had the power to decide when and how to release the information. Many waited until government agents arrived to enforce the proclamation. Many sought to force, now freed Black people, back to their unpaid labor. But freedom, once known, cannot be put back in the jar. The secret was out! It must be celebrated.
June 19, June Nineteenth…. June Tenth! Yes, that is it. JUNETEENTH!
One year later, in 1866, former slaves in Galveston, TX, exercised the right to celebrate, for they indeed had received a long-awaited prize. One that was hoped for, yet unexpected. Freedom, and it must be celebrated! It had to be. Justice had prevailed! It was their right to transform that day, June 19th, into a celebration, and they exercised it.
The celebration was almost lost until the Civil Rights Movement, one hundred years later. Since January 1980, Juneteenth has become an official State Holiday in Texas and in many other states, but it all began in the state of Texas, in the city of Galveston. In the face of hostility, freedom’s hope cried out in celebration, and it continues today. Freedom, individual freedom, must be celebrated, every day, to have real meaning beyond what others think it is.
JUNETEENTH reminds us that there is cause to celebrate the complexity of the Black experience, the diversity of our nation, and the dynamic of today’s world.
Faculty – School of Information Systems & Technology, DEI Taskforce Co-Chair