Juneteenth, June 19th, has come to be recognized and celebrated in many states (not all) as the Independence Day for enslaved African Americans as a result of the defeat of the Old South in the Civil War.

On June 19, 1865 Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island (Texas) with 2000 federal troops and issued President Lincoln’s “General Order No. 3” freeing all enslaved people in the state of Texas. One would need to take a serious history lesson about the Emancipation Proclamation that would explain why African Americans and descendants of Black Seminoles didn’t get this information until approximately two years after the original proclamation issued on January 1, 1863.

The tales about why a two year delay is the stuff that makes for great. Rumor and innuendo suggest the messenger sent to deliver the original order was murdered on his way to Texas. Some believe Union soldiers cut a deal with the farmers of the state to give them time for one more harvest and my favorite, “just don’t tell ‘em.’

Whatever the reason, the resulting effort to make Juneteenth a National Holiday is ripe with our culture awakening in spite of state sponsored terrorism, segregation and the attempt at the complete disenfranchisement of people of color known as Jim Crow.  This Juneteenth thing has roots that should be uncovered and nurtured. I should know.

My own ignorance and stupidity about the beginnings and subsequent celebration of Juneteenth initially caused me to think it was about as crazy a wannabe holiday for Black folk as I had ever heard of. When I arrived in Dallas,Texas decades ago I couldn’t believe people actually celebrated hearing about the Emancipation Proclamation two years late.

I rationalized at the time that must be the answer to why Texas colored folk were years behind the rest of the country, or so I thought. Extrapolate two years over 100 and I thought that stunted the growth of our communities in Texas in ways you couldn’t believe. And then I lived, worked, raised a family and started several businesses in Dallas and my appreciation for the people, our Lone Star culture and respect for Juneteenth and what it represents has grown exponentially.

My embarrassment has grown into a personal pride that comes from firsthand experience. I am a willing and eager convert for all things Texan starting with Juneteenth.

Space does not allow for a complete unpacking of why Juneteenth should indeed be given national holiday status and whether it does or not no longer matters. Those who know its history also know Juneteenth defines our presence in this country, our tenacity to survive and thrive against all odds. For the record Juneteenth is a recognized state holiday in Texas and Oklahoma.

After the Great Depression, when we left the farms of the rural south to find better lives in urban centers, we had little to celebrate when we got there. But we took Juneteenth with us. During the Second Great Migration of Black folks out of the South after World War II, millions of us left Texas, Louisiana and other southern hot spots for the West Coast and the Midwest.

And you guessed it! We took Juneteenth with us. At last count Juneteenth is celebrated in over 200 communities in the continental United States and some foreign countries. Never underestimate the sheer will, desire and tenacity of Black folks; especially those from Texas.

I liken the phenomenon of Juneteenth to any cultural idea we claim as our own. I am an American and July the Fourth is this country’s Independence Day. Don’t get made because Juneteenth is ours. Don’t hate. Celebrate!

 

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