June 19, 2010

Juneteenth: The greatest day that no one celebrates

Today is my favorite day of the year. It used to be New Year's Day, because of the possibilities, freshness and how serene the city presented itself (folks home sleeping it off), and my tradition of ice skating with friends in Grant Park. My birthday and Thanksgiving Day rank high, too.

Juneteenth celebrants, Austin Texas, June 19, 1900
Juneteenth, a day to celebrate emancipation, dates to 19 June, 1865 when a Union soldier regiment led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Texas with news that the enslaved were just that, but no more. Although President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on my other favorite day 2.5 years earlier--New Year's Day 1863--perhaps it was the lack of high-tech communication devices that caused the news delay. Well, the President's authority was in question; what is not in question is Galvestonian slaveholders defied the statue.

With no Katie Couric to recite the news, Granger was there to read General Order Number 3 himself:
"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."
Thank you, General Granger
Apparently the reaction was pure shock and then jubilation, thus touching off the first Juneteenth celebration. (I wonder if the date was blurred in the naming of the event because slaves didn't have a calendar to know the exact date, as one day simply bled into the next, working for the man?) Anyway, Juneteenth became a time for reassuring one another, praying and gathering remaining family members.

I'm a little confused how the Chicago celebration was co-opted to become a specifically Muslim festival: Takin’ It to the Streets-- "where artistic expression, spirituality and urban creativity inspire social change." The only other Chicago celebration I uncovered is at the Bronzeville Children's Museum, today featuring Fernando Jones teaching children to play blues on their harmonicas. Today, from 2-4 p.m. $5.00 entry

As America's first and only Debt Abolitionist, I, Broke Girl, like all things emancipatory. I like tax freedom day, which came and passed with little fanfare on April 9, following the UK's Tax Freedom Day on May 30. (Posted the link just just for the live animation of the bite chomping the twenty-pound note.)

As for now, from my perspective as a white American girl, I hope Juneteenth still commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes family togetherness, education and achievement. A time for reflection and rejoicing. A time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning our future.

Juneteenth seems to have lost its caché as holiday of choice for those embracing freedom. Most default to the big one stemming from the American Revolution, July 4, 1776, but it is nice to mark other moments, and to think of what it was like to have been in Galveston 145 years ago today--what hearing the news was like to the slaves as well as the slaveholders. I like to think it echoed years later on May 1, 1992 in the words of Rodney King, "People, can we all get along?  I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out."


On New Year's Day 1980, Texas state legislators passed a bill marking Juneteenth an official state holiday, the lone state to do so.


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