Juneteenth: Remembering Our Past – Reuniting Our Families – Celebrating Our Generations
Have you ever been out somewhere and had someone come up to you and say, “You look familiar. Do I know you?”
All of a sudden you both start trying to figure out how you know each other, but you can’t figure it out, and you walk away from each other still trying to remember. What an uncomfortable feeling, right? The bottom line is; both of you know that you have had a history with one another, whether brief or limited, and although you can’t fully recall the relationship history, your connection to that relationship history can’t be ignored or denied – there is a connection.
As we think back on where Black people were in 1865, and fast forward to 2016, it is clear that Black people have come a long way. It is extremely important for many people to remember the sacrifices made by those who endured the long and barbaric institution of slavery, by taking the time to pause and remember one of the oldest and most widely known recognized African American holidays in this country commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the United States to the 200,000 slaves in the state of Texas on June 19, 1865 – Juneteenth.
Also known as ‘Freedom Day’ or ‘Emancipation Day’, Juneteenth is an extremely important holiday for African Americans in this country. Many people in the U.S. commemorate Juneteenth, which is an abbreviated form of ‘June 19th’, and it has become an extremely important historical observance that has grown in popularity across the country.
In commemorating Juneteenth, many African Americans gather together and honor the day similar to the ways we celebrate Independence Day; by listening to live music, having community gatherings, youth events, cookouts, religious events, hosting educational sessions; and much more. It is a day that can be likened to having a big family reunion, where members of the African American family, both immediate and extended, can create a dedicated tradition where they come together annually to remember their storied past, have fun and celebrate every generation of people that make up the African American community – old and young.
There are many people who refuse to go to their own family reunions because they feel disconnected, but there are many who attend family reunions and consider them important. Unless you have the vision and dedication to create a platform that brings African Americans together on purpose as one big happy family, then it will never happen.
The Forward Times recognized the need for African Americans in the Greater Houston area to come together as a family, both immediate and extended, and thus created a platform to encourage all African Americans to come together to be a part of the biggest family reunion in Houston history – the Forward Times Juneteenth Celebration of Generations.
Juneteenth is a part of our African American family history and we should not ignore it. It marks the day African Americans in Texas belatedly received word that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed the nation’s slaves.
Although President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, the state of Texas, as a part of the Confederacy, was resistant to the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the state of Texas due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order in the state. The Emancipation Proclamation had originally taken effect on January 1, 1863, but word didn’t reach Texas until two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, and more than two years after the proclamation was issued. Union Major General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops eventually arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 18, 1865 and delivered a decree concerning the emancipation of Africans held in slavery in the South. General Granger read General Order No. 3 in Galveston proclaiming, “Slaves are free” on June 19, 1865. One of General Granger’s first orders of business in Galveston was to deliver a decree concerning the emancipation of Africans held in slavery in the South, and to read to the people of Texas, General Order No. 3, which began most significantly with:
“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
When African Americans heard this unexpected news coming from the lips of General Granger, their reactions ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. Many of these “newly-freed” and former African American slaves began to wonder what the relationship between them and their former slave masters would now look like. Even with having no specific place to go, many former African American slaves left their respective plantations in order to experience what their first taste of freedom would be like; and of course these “newly-freed” African Americans were smart enough to know that if someone decided to renege on their decision and change their minds, they wanted to be long go before anyone could ever think about taking away their new found freedom, so moving up north became a likely destination choice for many, because it represented true freedom. Many others moved to neighboring states such as Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Settling into these new areas as freedmen and freedwomen brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a status of relevance for African Americans in this country. Again, Juneteenth was an important day for African Americans in this country and became a life-changing event for many African American families.
Juneteenth eventually spread to Houston and to more than 26 other states, where it began to be celebrated annually. According to many Houston historians, civil rights activist and noted African American political consultant Rev. C. Anderson Davis, was the original author and sole drafter of the Juneteenth Proclamation, which in 1979, was used by Texas State Representative Al Edwards to sponsor House Bill 1016 to officially make June 19th (Juneteenth) a state holiday in Texas, the first official holiday in the nation for African Americans.
It is important to remember Juneteenth and our rich history as African Americans. African Americans may be the only cultural group in the U.S., who has completely detached themselves from their original cultural heritage and rich overall family history. As we look at immigrants who arrive here in the U.S., the majority of them never forget where they come from – whether it is their country or their family. The majority of immigrants to this country will do everything in their power to make their way to the U.S., but will always remember where they come from. The majority of immigrants will always embrace their culture, and the majority of immigrants will always teach their children to do the same. Many African Americans fail to do the same and have collectively chosen to abandon their culture in order to adopt the European culture that dominates our society today. It is time for African Americans to embrace their collective family.
When it comes to African Americans, Juneteenth is our Independence Day.
Variously known as the Fourth of July and Independence Day, July 4th has been a federal holiday in the U.S. since 1941, and is celebrated on July 4th because that is the day when the Continental Congress adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. From July 8, 1776, until the next month, the document was read publicly and people celebrated whenever they heard it. From 1776 until the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with typical festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues.
Last July, during the annual Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, Grammy-award winning vocalist Usher made a bold statement with his attire during his performance that weekend.
Usher was the headliner at the Saturday night show, and as he came out on the stage to perform, it wasn’t his musical talent that was on display and talked about, it was what he wore that generated the most buzz and brought attention to Juneteenth.
As Usher came onstage, he had on a custom-made T-shirt that had the word ‘Juneteenth’ boldly displayed on it. However, it wasn’t the fact he had the word ‘Juneteenth’ displayed that made the custom-made T-shirt so buzz-worthy; it was the fact that the custom-made T-shirt also had the words ‘July Fourth’ written on it, but those words had been crossed out with a line, while the word ‘Juneteenth’ was boldly written underneath it for the whole world to see.
Usher was making a political and social statement about the current state of America at the time, and chose to recognize Juneteenth as the Independence Day for African Americans versus the Fourth of July. Then to top things off, Usher dropped a bombshell question on everybody that appeared on the back of his leather jacket concerning the current state of America, which read: “Have We Achieved Our Independence?”
That was a powerful question to have asked at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement was becoming more galvanized, and there were a number of high-profile cases of unarmed Blacks being killed by police, and of course after that horrific racially-motivated attack by White supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed 9 worshippers at a prayer service at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last year. Usher then went on to drop knowledge on the millions of Instagram followers he has by wishing every one of them a happy belated Juneteenth.
Again, when it comes to African Americans, Juneteenth is our Independence Day.
It is important for African Americans to know their history and where they come from, but it is equally as important for African Americans to know where they are going and who is going there with them. Sadly, many African Americans are disconnected from their roots and from one another, which has created a chasm between one another. If you have ever attended a family reunion, you may recognize some family members there, but chances are you won’t recognize everyone because you’ve either never met or it has been so long time since you last saw them that you are not familiar with who they are. Regardless of your ability to fully recognize that member of your family, it doesn’t negate the fact that they are a part of your family.
The Forward Times Juneteenth Celebration of Generations will feature live music and performances, featuring Lil’ Nathan & The Zydeco Big Timers; gospel music legend Kathy Taylor; Prince-protégé Tamar Davis; Houston Mass Choir; Jaye Valentine; Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux “Harriet Tubman”; Tha Unyt Band; and many more. There will also be games, giveaways, history re-enactments, Father’s Day recognitions, food vendors, merchandise vendors, dance contests, family photos, kid’s zone and much more family fun for all generations.
This will be an annual event that is truly one big Black family reunion that will allow us all to come together and truly get to know one another. Doing this would reduce the chances of us, as African Americans, walking up to one another as strangers having to ask our Black brothers and Black sisters, “You look familiar. Do I know you?”
This year’s event will be held on Saturday, June 18th from 11 am – 9 pm at the Cherubim Ranch, 622 Evergreen, Fresno, TX 77545. For more information, visit www.forwardtimes.com.
The history of Juneteenth is extremely important, and it is a part of our overall African American family history that should be embraced by all African Americans in this country. See you there!