Dr. Danita Johnson Hughes
Although yet to be designated as an official federal holiday, please allow me to recognize this very special occasion by wishing everyone a Blessed Juneteenth! Please note I intentionally replaced the usual “Happy” with “Blessed” to hopefully add more solemnity and significance to the traditional observance of what was originally known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day. Also, please be sure to put some sauce in the gumbo or gospel in the word, so it rolls off the tongue like Grandma and our ancestors intended. Like in the Beatitudes or old Negro Spirituals, this day isn’t just “Blessed”, it’s “Blesid!”
Hopefully, most of you are well aware by now that Juneteenth commemorates the day Union Army General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 to announce that all slaves in the state were free. Of course, this happened nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, however, some 250,000 enslaved Black people were left unaware because Texas was considered the most remote of slave states.
Another misconception is that Juneteenth marked the end of slavery in the United States, although that inhumane institution was not officially abolished until ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865. Naturally, the formerly enslaved Negroes in Galveston celebrated immediately after General Granger’s announcement, however, the annual celebration of Jubilee Day was actually organized by freedmen in Texas the following year. The commemoration spread throughout Texas from there and by the 1890’s Jubilee Day had become known as Juneteenth.
Today Juneteenth celebrations are being held all over the nation and despite what someone in higher office thinks, Juneteenth is widely known throughout the African American community and in fact is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in forty-nine of fifty states (Bonus points if you can name the lone state that does not). Juneteenth is considered the longest running African American holiday and for many it’s considered “America’s Second Independence Day.
Juneteenth celebrations have drawn thousands of people and usually include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing of Negro Spirituals and traditional songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Life Every Voice and Sing”, and readings of noted works by African American writers like Maya Angelou, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and James Baldwin. Juneteenth celebrations are also known for elaborate soul food meals, picnics, cookouts, people dressed in their Sunday best. And just in case you didn’t know, strawberry soda is the traditional drink associated with Juneteenth celebrations and of course barbecue is the centerpiece.
Recently, in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic and after the brutal murder of George Floyd and too many other Black people at the hands of law enforcement, the celebration of Juneteenth became embroiled in controversy when President Donald J. Trump decided to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma of all places. It’s bad enough the event was originally scheduled for today, June 19, 2020, but it was especially insulting that it was taking place near the site of the historic Greenwood District, better known as Black Wall Street, which was tragically burned to the ground during the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921. Fortunately, The White House bowed to public pressure or less likely, social consciousness, and rescheduled the President’s political pride fest for tomorrow.
Today, many of you came to work at Edgewater Health stressed over current events, worried about COVID-19, and burdened with 401 years of racial discrimination, inequality and oppression. Some may have hoped for a brief respite from civil upheaval and maybe even a paid day off to commemorate Juneteenth. Unfortunately, until the holiday is officially designated at the federal level, as many congressional representatives will vote for in the House in the coming days, most American businesses, governmental offices, schools, and financial institutions will remain open. Nevertheless, until that day comes when every American, regardless of race, color or creed, can properly and officially observe Juneteenth, please take a moment to reflect on the historical nature and tremendous significance of this day. And have a strawberry soda on me!
GENERAL MILITARY ORDER NO. 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.”