19 June 2020
Juneenth (also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, or Cel-Libration Day) is celebrated annually on the 19th of June, in remembrance of 19 June 1865 when federal orders were read in Galveston, Texas by Union Major General Gordon Granger that slaves in Texas were free. This is a day that historically and in present day, has been described as having particular significance to African Americans, and especially Black people in Texas. But this day should matter to us all. This day should matter to white people. I want to share what Juneteenth means to me and why I believe it should be a national holiday.
Two and a half years before the announcement in Galveston, Texas that slaves were free, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863. In it he declared that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are and henceforward shall be free.” The Emancipation Proclamation is layered with white interests in the midst of calling for the freedom of [some] Black lives. The wording of the Emancipation Proclamation limited the declaration of freedom of slaves to rebel states — those that had seceded from the Union, and did not apply to border states that had not seceded, states in the Union, or Southern states that were under Northern control.
Just six months prior, Abraham Lincoln, more explicitly framed what can be described as white property interests and interest convergence when he wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Tribune, describing his focus on preserving the Union rather than focus on abolishing slavery. He wrote “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery […] I do because I believe it helps to save this Union.” This letter exemplifies the use of Black bodies towards white political gains and situates the Emancipation Proclamation in the question freedom for whom and to benefit whom?
The Emancipation Proclamation was delivered to spur the continued war efforts, and the freedom of slaves was not instantaneous but rather contingent upon the Union winning the Civil War. It was a promise of freedom delayed. Even when the Union army did win the Civil War, two years later, on 9 April 1865, many slaves were not freed until the Union enforced emancipation. The news of freedom and the enforcement of that freedom, further delayed. This was the case in Texas, where three months after the Civil War was won by the Union, 250,000 people were still being held in slavery until Union troops arrived in Galveston on 19 June 1865 and delivered General Order No. 3 stating “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.
For me, Juneteenth is a day to reflect on our nation’s history, a day to celebrate Black lives, a day to acknowledge, remember, learn, and take action – just as we have a responsibility to do everyday.
Today, (and everyday) I aspire to reflect on the long history and present day acts of white supremacy. Today is a reminder of the agility and pervasiveness of whiteness. How in the movement for freedom and justice for Black lives, whiteness can so quickly be centered and narratives so quickly co-opted. Just as Lincoln’s letter to the editor of the New York Tribune privileged the preservation of the Union over the freedom of Black lives as expressed through rhetorical interest convergence, and the subsequent delay in the message of freedom reaching Texas, so today there are countless examples of white supremacy impeding justice for Black lives.
Today, (and everyday) I aspire to celebrate Black lives, Black futures, and Black organizing. I will mourn the loss of Black lives and vehemently oppose the systems and people responsible for their deaths. I will say their names: Breonna Taylor in Louisville. George Floyd in Minneapolis. Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County. Tony McDade in Tallahassee. Dion Johnson in Phoenix. I will donate to and support organizations and people doing justice work for Black lives.
Today, (and everyday) I aspire to learn and take action for a more just world. I am honored, proud, and grateful to work for ACPA, an association that announced earlier this week that it is honoring Juneteenth as a holiday, and as an association committed to boldly transforming higher education through our mission, values, and the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization, we will lead the way in acknowledging and honoring this holiday each year.
Today, I am called to ask, how will I spend my day, and each day, and yet especially this day, directed toward racial justice? I think this is a day our nation should observe and in doing so ask that very same question. Juneteenth is our collective history as a nation, we have a responsibility to know that history in community, and understand it, so that we may take action to continue to build a more just world where Black Lives Matter and are truly free.
In solidarity, celebration, and action on this Juneteenth day,
ACPA Director, Professional Development