One of our newest staff associates Celeste Malone wrote the following post in celebration of Juneteenth, an American holiday on June 19 that commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas and is widely viewed as the end of slavery in the United States. MP&F’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which Celeste is a member of, provides regular programming for the office to create a more open and self-aware environment. The content of the post was part of a presentation Celeste and fellow staff associate Ira Hughes gave during a recent staffwide meeting.
On June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, taking control of the state. When he arrived, Granger declared, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive Office of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Approximately 250,000 enslaved black people in the state of Texas were now free. Celebrations amongst the newly freed blacks broke out across the state and Juneteenth, a combination of June and nineteen, was born.
Two years prior, President Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves who rebelled against the Union. But the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves; it only freed slaves in the Confederacy. Slavery was not officially abolished in the United States until the ratifying of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.
So, not only did the news of freedom come to Texas more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, it also came almost half a year after slavery was due to be outlawed in the entire country. Why did it take so long for word to reach Galveston?
Texas was not a major battle state during the Civil War and, as a result, had a small Union Army presence. This encouraged many slaveowners to move to Texas with their slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation, where enforcement was virtually nonexistent. Even after emancipation reached Texas via the 13th Amendment, many slaveowners rebelled by completely ignoring the law and forcing enslaved blacks to continue their work.
This blatant defiance of U.S. law foreshadowed the status that blacks would assume during the Reconstruction era and beyond. Even after slavery was abolished, the newly freed still faced persecution. The following decades offered no consolation from white counterparts with the creation of Black Codes, Ku Klux Klan chapters and Jim Crow laws. Gruesome and inhumane treatment of African Americans continued until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which finally established legal equality for African Americans.
Now, 154 years after Juneteenth, the significance of the holiday is gaining recognition. Juneteenth is observed in 46 states, including Tennessee, and has been added to the national calendar in recent years. The festivities for this holiday, similar to those on July 4, are equipped with barbecues, live music and prayer services.
Some may wonder, “Why is this important?” The answer is simple: context matters, especially with traditionally marginalized populations. Knowledge leads to understanding, and through understanding we create a more diverse and inclusive environment, enhancing the quality of work and life.
Companies like Netflix have recognized this and have provided the opportunities for creators from different backgrounds to create inclusive content that relates to consumers who identify with a marginalized group. Shows like “Orange is the New Black” and “On My Block” provide platforms for marginalized communities to see themselves on the big screen. Ava Duverney’s “13th” and “When They See Us” create opportunities for viewers to understand life through someone else’s eyes while being able to have tough conversations in order to move forward.
Not only does Juneteenth signify freedom, it represents the continued resilience of African Americans and deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated every year. At MP&F, we recognized Juneteenth by engaging in a staffwide information session about the holiday’s significance, not only to African American history but to American history as well.