The Importance of Juneteenth

It was exactly 155 years ago today, on June 19, 1865, that Major General Gordon Granger, announced in Galveston, Texas, “…in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free!”

The Emancipation Proclamation happened in 1863, however, some states that had seceded from the union did not adhere to the proclamation. Freedom did not come at the snap of a finger. People of color who should have been freed continued to work through the harvest season because their masters withheld this announcement to reap more work out of their slaves.

Although Juneteenth is not a national holiday, it should be. It is seen by many African Americans as our real Independence Day. It is when all people held as slaves were officially notified that they were free. During the past 155 years, the struggle for freedom and what it means to be free in this county and around the world continues to be challenged. Nelson Mandela said,

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Fast forward to 2020, many disenfranchised groups are still struggling and fighting for the rights that were promised in the United States Consitution. It proves that we still have work to do. 

On the left, Tommy Ferguson at a peaceful protest for Civil Rights in the 1970s, on the right Tommy at the “March to End Racism” in Columbus in June.

During the past few weeks, since a video captured the death of George Floyd, at the hands of the police, there seems to be a new awakening in this country. I have seen a new coalition of young and old, black and white, male and female, rich and poor who are standing up, speaking out, and fighting to ensure freedom for all.

Paul Robeson, one of my personal heroes said,

“To be free . . . to walk the good American earth as equal citizens, to live without fear, to enjoy the fruits of our toil, to give our children every opportunity in life–that dream which we have held so long in our hearts is today the destiny that we hold in our hands.”

He reminds us,  it is in our hands!

We are at a pivotal time in our history, 155 years after the first Juneteenth celebration. These times may be scary for some because change always makes us less comfortable, but as the poet and activist Audre Lorde reminds us….

“When I dare to be powerful to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”  

Ms. Lorde, I take the pledge. 

My question for you, dear reader, is:  Will you take this pledge, too?

Written by: Mr. Tommy Ferguson, Education Coordinator

Mrs. Vanitia Turner, Family-to-Family Site Coordinator, contributed to this piece

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