Growing up in Texas, I celebrated Juneteenth and never thought twice about it. For many years, I attended or participated in parades, firework shows and other events. It was a way of life for me. Unfortunately, it was not until I was older I realized many did not know anything about Juneteenth.
When I joined the Air Force and made it to my first duty station, I could not believe people did not know about Juneteenth. I always assumed it was widespread knowledge. To most, it had nothing to do with them, so they did not care to learn, but to some, they were intrigued and wanted to know everything about it.
It was my pleasure to take the time to share this piece of history with them. I would start by telling them, on June 19, 1865, the lives of Texas slaves changed forever. Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and told the residents of the state, President Abraham Lincoln had freed slaves two and half years prior with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
After several of these conversations, I took it upon myself to do further research. To my surprise, there were things I did not know, like, the Emancipation Proclamation only pertained to areas already under Confederate control, but did not extend to the slave-holding states or rebellious areas already under Union governance. The key to freedom was the ability of the Union troops to fight and take control of those areas. Due to the lack of Union presence and fighting in Texas, slave owners in the state met little resistance; in fact, many slave owners from out of the state fled to Texas so they could retain their slaves. Some even withheld the information until after the harvest.
For 250,000 enslaved people, June 19, 1865, provided the opportunity to experience something they never had before…freedom. The abolishment of slavery legally occurred in December of that year, with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.
Texas made Juneteenth an official holiday in 1979, but it was not until June 17, 2021, 42 years later, that Congress passed the bill inaugurating Juneteenth as a national holiday.
Many may ask what the significance of Juneteenth is and to me, as a native Texan and as an American from African descent, it signifies progress and freedom. Juneteenth provided a new beginning for those enslaved at the time and a future for their descendants. Juneteenth is not just Texas history, it is, American History.
As writer, philosopher George Santayana stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So today, as we celebrate freedom, one of the many things we pride this nation on and fought so hard to secure, may we remember those who paved the way and those who continue to fight for us to have it.