Ask anyone at work or in your social setting what “Juneteenth” is and there’s a good chance that they’ll look at you like miniature unicorns are soaring out of your ears. As many can concur, Juneteenth is a national holiday that, although may often get overlooked by other celebrations like Independence Day, is a monumental date in American history, more appropriately African-American history.
On this day in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with 2000 troops to spread the word that slavery had officially ended and that the enslaved were free. Think about that for a second. While President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to officially free the slaves on January 1, 1863, it took about two whole years for Southern slaves in bondage to realize and get the news. So legally they were already free, but they had no idea.
Where social media is this era’s go-to for up-to-the-minute information, the year 1865 was a whole different world. So, of course, there was a lag time — two and a half years, to be exact — before word on the Emancipation Proclamation and General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at the end of the Civil War spread down south. To this day, there are no clear explanations for the hold up, but therein lies an ugly legacy. There are accounts that say the news was purposely withheld by plantation owners; federal troops permitted the delay as a way for slave owners to reap one final cotton harvest; a messenger was murdered on his way to Texas to relay the news.
While Kanye West infamously stated that “slavery was a choice,” this holiday is also a reminder of the damage that can come with being misinformed. Men and women, who were often robbed of their children, were completely shut out of the proper information that could have saved and changed their life. Yet, still and all, on June 19, 1865, the moment Major Gen. Gordon Granger and Union soldiers arrived on Galveston Island, that moment arrived as the last remaining slaves in America were declared free.
While there is still so much work left to do, today we celebrate black liberation and freedom for all. As families are being torn apart at the borders and in our own communities, Juneteenth is a reminder that “none of us are free until all of us are free.”