Home National news Juneteenth is chance to celebrate freedom with greater activism, Black leaders say

Juneteenth is chance to celebrate freedom with greater activism, Black leaders say

by PRIDE Newsdesk

by Hamil R. Harris\

<TriceEdneyWire.com> — Even though President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he was forced to send federal troops down to Galveston, Texas, to read and post General Order Number 3 on June 19, 1865. That was because some enslaved people had not been freed.

Therefore, under the command of Major Gen. Gordan Granger, the soldiers marched through the streets of Galveston from the courthouse to the ‘Negro church’ and posted the following order:

“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 enslavers and enslaved people, and the connection between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere. By order of Major General Granger.”

Rev. Amos Brown

Due to this extraordinary moment in Galveston, June 19, 2021 officially became a national holiday in the U.S., signed into law by President Joseph Biden. But, civil rights activists and leaders from coast to coast say more must be done to explain the vital order that gave all enslaved people their full rights to freedom and self-determination. Then, communities can decide the most powerful way to commemorate it.

“This should not be just a day to eat barbecue and drink some spirits. We need to be more intentional in terms of substance to Juneteenth,” said Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco and veteran civil rights activist. “Our ancestors got the word late that this nation had stopped their brutal treatment of Black folks. In Luke 4, Jesus was a liberator. Juneteenth was about liberation, and today, it ought to be about political engagement.”

Rep. Al Green

On June 23, 2023, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) sought to deepen understanding of the historical significance of Juneteenth as he delivered an impactful speech on the House floor centering on the importance of Juneteenth, the District of Columbia Emancipation Act, and his Conscience Agenda. Green also sought to underscore the urgent need for racially equitable policies and the importance of remembering the atrocities of slavery.

“President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862. This is an important piece of legislation—the Emancipation Act would accord compensation [to slaveholders] for slaves that were freed,” Rep. Green said. “We need a Slavery Remembrance Day. We also need to accord dignity and respect to the enslaved people with a Congressional gold medal.”

Dr. Frank Smith, founder of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington D.C., said there even needs to be more than Juneteenth.

Dr. Frank Smith

“We can’t have too many holidays to celebrate the freedom of African Americans. I think it is important to call attention to the fact that it is a long struggle, and people are still fighting to retain the right to vote because state after state is trying to make it more difficult for people to have the right to vote,” Smith said.

In 1960, Smith was one of the leaders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which took part in one of the bloodiest chapters of the Civil Rights movement. In terms of hard-fought gains of the past, he said: “I am a little concerned that we are going to let this thing slip through our fingers.”

Rev. Tony Lee, pastor of Community of Hope AME Church in Temple Hills, Md., said: “Juneteenth has always been a holiday to help us focus on self-determination, and I believe this is a good holiday to influence this nation.”

But he added that it must be expanded to all generations.

“Young adults will be engaged if activists take their messages to the people,” Lee said. “In Maryland, we had a night club tour where we went into area night clubs and talked about the importance of voting and self-determination.”

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end to slavery in the United States. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863. It had little impact on Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops present to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of Gen. Lee in the Civil War in April of 1865, Gen. Granger’s regiment squashed Confederate resistance and sent the final order to Texas.

Ayo Handy-Kendi (Harold Goodridge copyright 2014)

“Texas was one of the Southern Confederate states that was forced to free its enslaved who were still in bondage,” said Ayo Handy-Kendi, founder of the African American Holiday Association. “The people celebrated in such a way that the celebration continues today.”

From Houston to Atlanta and from Miami to Washington D.C., Juneteenth is broadly a festive holiday. This year will include a Juneteenth celebration at the White House. President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was set to host a Juneteenth Concert at the White House on June 10. It was intended to kick off a week of activities taking place across the country, leading to Wednesday, June 19, the actual federal holiday.

It was President Biden who signed bipartisan legislation in 2021 establishing Juneteenth as the nation’s newest federal holiday, “so that all Americans can feel the power of this day, learn from our history, celebrate our progress, and recognize and engage in the work that continues,” President Biden wrote.

The White House Juneteenth concert will host big names like Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Roy Wood, Jr., Doug E. Fresh, and Brittney Spencer.

Melanie Campbell

Handy-Kendi says she produces “a one woman play called Juneteenth Freedom Sagas which tells the true story of Juneteenth and other emancipation stories through the lens of those who held the enslaved in bondage and further speaks to the liberation stories today.”

Melanie Campbell, president/CEO of the National Coalition of Black Voter Participation, said among the greatest tributes to Juneteenth will be learning from its history.

“We celebrate. But we [must] learn from history,” Cambell said. “We need to take this moment right now to learn because we all don’t have our right to vote, right to learn and women don’t have right to choose.”

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