Honoring Juneteenth by Speaking Truth and Fighting for Our Democracy
On June 19th, 1865 Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas coming more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which had gone into full effect on January 1, 1863 to enforce the emancipation of slaves in Texas where an estimated more than 250,000 slaves were still in bondage. These slaves had not been previously told they were free. General Granger’s statement read in part, “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…”.
This tragic and unconscionable situation which Granger was correcting of a quarter of a million people still enslaved and unaware of their freedom in Texas occurred for three primary reasons: 1) news reporters and commentators failed for two years to communicate the undermining of federal law, 2) the slaveholders didn’t tell their slaves they had been freed, and 3) there was little to no federal troops in Texas to enforce Lincoln’s order as state authorities abdicated responsibility.
This is why for over one hundred and fifty years African-Americans and so many others in Texas considered this date, called Juneteenth, exceedingly important and to celebrate the truth they were finally told and the freedom which it entailed. Early on in Texas, Juneteenth celebrations were banned in public parks and facilities because of white supremacy and state-sponsored segregation. And many of these early celebrations were used as rallies to give important voting information and education to newly freed slaves.
[This celebration of Juneteenth has spread throughout the country. The United Congress has just recently passed a bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday which President Joe Biden will soon sign. Though it is incredibly hypocritical for those in the GOP and some Democrats who voted for this holiday or laud it at political gatherings, but stand in the way of ensuring voting rights across the country and do nothing as GOP leaders in state after state undermine the right to vote and themselves either don’t tell people the truth or lie to them about election fraud.
As so many Texans and Americans stand up and fight for our democracy in this moment and against the rising tide of white supremacy and autocracy that has infected too many communities and the once Grand Old Party, let us all remember this day and celebrate the freedom that slowly and finally came to far too many slaves. And let us remember merely counting on others to speak the truth and communicate to all citizens the ideals and promise of America is a recipe for delayed justice and loss of freedom for us all.
Today many in our modern day press and some national and local leaders have done a good job of relaying to our fellow citizens the dangers of the moment and the potential loss of voter rights, the push for voter nullification by GOP partisans, and ultimately the fracturing and destruction of our precious democracy. But not enough have spoken out clearly on this and raised this as the crucial issue of our time. We must all relay to our neighbors and fellow citizens the dangerous moment we are in, and it is incumbent on every one of us who believe in America to do whatever we can to warn folks of the danger and to encourage them to take action. Like the patriot and legend Paul Revere in his “Midnight Ride” we each can raise a lantern in our version of the “Old North Church” to cast light on the GOP’s attempts to subvert our democracy and rally our fellow citizens to this just cause.
As the celebrations occur this week for Juneteenth, let us remember and commemorate the thousands of folks who had to wait too long to hear of their freedom because either undemocratic people kept the information from them and lied or people of good will stayed silent and allowed this tragedy to not be corrected. And maybe we can all use this as a jumping off point to commit to the work in this moment of communicating the attacks on democracy today, fighting for the right of all Americans to vote, have their voices heard and counted, ensure accountability of our elected officials, and live in a free and fair nation of equality and justice.
My fellow Texans and Americans, we each are big enough, and have enough bravado, to not let this moment pass without standing up — not just in gatherings for Juneteenth but each day in the battle that is before us. We can honor the legacy of Juneteenth today and the days ahead by acting now as a unified Team Democracy.