Juneteenth, the neglected holiday

BY EMILY INMAN | JUNE 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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Sunday was an important holiday, right?

It was the third Sunday in June, meaning fathers across the country were honored with electric razors and golf clubs. However, another very important day — a holiday in 39 states and Washington, D.C. — also occurred on Sunday.

Among many African-Americans, June 19 is colloquially referred to as “Juneteenth.” On June 19, 1865, Gen. Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas, which began: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

If you recall your history correctly, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, and it became effective Jan. 1, 1863. But slaves in Texas were unaware of that. Rumors circled among slaves in the South that freedom from slavery in the North had spread, but the Southern government did not acknowledge nor speak to these rumors. It was not until two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses Grant at Appomattox that the Emancipation Proclamation was made public in Galveston.

Grass-roots groups have tried to push for the recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday.

Suggestions have been made to incorporate Juneteenth into Independence Day, sharing the holiday equally, because it is only two weeks later. However, some groups feel that Independence Day is actually a day of propaganda filled with untruths; not all Americans gained their freedom on that day.

Although Juneteenth is undoubtedly a day to be celebrated for its historical significance of freedom from slavery, it is certainly not a marker of complete freedom — or an acknowledgment by the United States government and European-Americans of the equality of Africans and African-Americans. Unmistakably, racist ideologies toward Africans and African-Americans continued in the United States for years to come.

Not only did racist ideologies fester within the minds of the majority, but those ideologies manifested into malicious laws that kept African-Americans in positions of inadequacy and subservience. Freedom from slavery didn’t mean one could obtain equal justice. Many slaves were required to show a certificate and post absurd bond amounts in order to leave the home of their master. Obtaining the bond amount meant more years of hard labor to secure enough money. Even then, most ex-slaves were unable to purchase small shacks because they couldn’t show proof of past stability.

Once African-Americans began gaining ground on assimilating into society in the South, Jim Crow laws were enacted in the 1880s. These laws legalized the segregation of blacks and whites. Blacks had to use separate schools, restaurants, restrooms, parks, hospitals, etc., and these separate areas for blacks were generally smaller, illy maintained, and filthy. Violence toward blacks was common, and the government was negligent about their concerns. Then, as history reads, the civil-rights movement arrived, flourished, and led to a seemingly equal standing among all Americans.

Now, in 2011, discrimination, structural and silent racism, and structural violence still occur not only toward African-Americans but also toward many other marginalized groups in American society. These practices include not allowing for gay marriage, denying hardworking immigrants affordable ways to citizenship, not making reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities, and impeding the ability of many minorities to access affordable housing.

Celebrations of Juneteenth have come and gone as if it were a fashion trend. In some regions, large festivals are held, and many memorial events occur throughout the month. In other regions, the day is hardly recognized. This can be attributed to unawareness of the day and its significance.

Juneteenth should become a national holiday, but it must not turn into a secularized day of feasting and drinking. The celebration of Juneteenth needs to become a teachable moment for those unaware of its history and those still unaccepting of the unfamiliar. It is an integral part of our history that is tantamount to society today, yet it is still underrepresented. The significance of Juneteenth should serve Americans as a reminder about the dream of an equal and free society.

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