As America takes time to celebrate Juneteenth, the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans, I believe that it holds special significance this year and that we should take this time to rejoice in our freedoms and reflect on our shared American values.
That is why we must celebrate and reflect on the meaning of Juneteenth. Now, more than ever.
I say this because many people do not realize, that although President Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it took another two and a half years for Union Army General Gordon Granger to issue General Order #3, which officially freed the slaves of Texas. Similarly, it took another year after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which officially abolished slavery in the United States, for the last slaves in America to finally be freed.
This holds special and personal significance for me because I am one generation removed from being born on a plantation in the land of Former Governor George Wallace, the place of Jim Crow and the county of the field trails: Bullock County, Alabama.
My grandfather was born into a family of sharecroppers who picked cotton, tilled fields, and herded goats on a large plantation. In fact, my grandfather attended a one-room schoolhouse and attained a 4th grade education. For the entirety of his life, he lived from hand to mouth. My grandmother, who grew up on the same plantation, took care of the house- while her mother prepared the meals on the plantation and her father worked in the fields. She, too, only received a 6th grade education. My mother was the second oldest of 9 children, also born on this same plantation. But, my grandparents had a different vision for her life and for all of us.
They had a vision of progression and prosperity, a vision unseen during their life-time. It wasn’t until around 1978, four years before I was born that my grandparents were able to move off the Sehoy Plantation into a nearby community. This marked the beginning of their vision coming to fruition for their kids. Yet, their vision for future generations was rooted in the freedoms guaranteed by the binding and glorious promise of Juneteenth.
You see, Juneteenth was the first step in a very long journey toward true freedom, civic representation, and equality for African-Americans. The next step in that arduous journey was the Constitutional guarantee of voting rights for Black Americans due to the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870. Much later and after many more historic steps, it was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since the first historic Juneteenth, or what has come to be viewed as a true Independence Day for African Americans, we have made tremendous progress toward equal representation and equity. African Americans have become titans of industries, moguls, elected to our highest offices and elevated to our highest court. Juneteenth is, and has always been, about the freedom to prosper in the United States of America.
Within this context, Juneteenth 2022, is especially significant today because it reminds me that our cherished freedoms must be safeguarded and protected. We must study our history and take heed of its lessons. We must remind ourselves that freedom is a sacred blessing. Particularly, as we look at other countries that do not enjoy the same rights of citizenship or personal expression, we simply cannot take our freedom or our liberties for granted. The America my grandparents were born into is different than the one I was born into. I had all my rights at birth. I pray my grandchildren will be born into an America that continues to perfect herself. Progress as Dr. King once said “will not roll in on the wheels of inevitability.” That is why we must work together to expand civic participation and engagement because that is how we exercise and protect our civil rights. Truly, this is the foundation of our democracy and how, together, we realize the diversity and beauty of the American dream.
On this Juneteenth, let us remember the day that former slaves joyfully experienced their first taste of freedom. Let us also remember the sacrifices of those who fought to secure our right to vote. Let us also make a renewed commitment to increase civic engagement and ensure our voices are heard. Let us rejoice in celebrating Juneteenth by ensuring that all Americans have a seat at the table. Let’s remember the joyful significance of Juneteenth and why we need to celebrate this historic day, now more than ever.