Many Americans celebrate July 4th as the nation’s Independence Day, but for many African Americans, Juneteenth is the holiday that celebrates freedom and emancipation from slavery. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, however the official end of the Civil War was not until April 1865. In light of the slow methods of communication and minimal number of Union troops to enforce Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Texas slaves continued to live in bondage until June 18th, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 troops arrived in Texas to enforce the emancipation of slaves. On June 19th, legend says that General Granger read the Emancipation Proclamation to everyone while standing on a villa. That day has since become known as Juneteenth, a combination of the word June and nineteenth. Former slaves in Galveston, Texas rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations that became the start of the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery.
Our struggles today are still related to freedom. While we have made extraordinary gains, too often many in our community are left lagging behind the majority population in not only resources but the information necessary to gain those resources. Research shows that while white Americans have on average double the income of black Americans, they have more than six times the wealth. The report demonstrates that wealth inequality is actually increasing, not decreasing over time. Recent developments including the erosion of protections afforded by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 should serve as a cautionary tale that we must remain vigilant in our quest for true freedom.
As we head to the backyard for hot dogs and burgers on this 4th of July, take a moment to reflect on the real meaning of freedom in 2013.
What is your definition of freedom?