Depending on where in the world you were born and where you went you school, you may or may not know the history of Juneteenth. It technically didn’t become a U.S. federal holiday until 2021. However, it has long been commemorated as the end of slavery and, in more recent years, evolved into a day of reflection and action by people all around the world who are continuing to fight systemic racism and slavery. That’s why I feel the story of how Juneteenth came to be deserves to be celebrated, remembered, and retold again today – but this time, from a point of view not often shared.
See, I was born and raised in the Midwest U.S., and there I was taught that the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, ended slavery for all. What I later learned as an adult was that not all enslaved people were freed by their slaveholders. Many were moved to the deep south because Confederate states opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordan Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and issued General Order No. 3, proclaiming the freedom of all enslaved people in the state. His act of “audacity” freed more than 250,000 enslaved people who were already technically free.
In other words, Juneteenth is a symbol of liberation, unity, and hope, as well as a reminder that justice can prevail even in the face of great adversity. And that is something that every human can appreciate.
General Gordon Granger's arrival in Galveston was a momentous occasion, as it brought news of freedom and ignited a wave of jubilation among the enslaved population. His actions exemplify the courage, leadership, and commitment to justice that we should strive to emulate. In a time when slavery was deeply entrenched in society, General Granger wielded his power and authority to make a profound difference. Today while we celebrate the independence of enslaved people, I also challenge you to embody the audacity of General Gordon Granger.
“How?” you ask. Keep reading!!
First, educate yourself. Go deeper than what you think you know and be open to unlearning some things you were taught. To be like General Granger, we must first seek knowledge and understanding. Educate yourself about the history of slavery, the economic impact of slavery, and how dismantling slavery financially hurt slaveholders. This can then shed light on systemic slavery, systemic racism, and struggles faced by African Americans today, even in our free-ish status. You will also gain an understanding of the ongoing fight for freedom of equality among all people. Read books, explore documentaries, engage in meaningful conversations, and challenge your own biases. Only through education can we fully appreciate the significance of Juneteenth and the work that still lies ahead around the world.
Secondly, optimize your platforms. Use your power and influence to amplify the voices of marginalized communities. In the spirit of General Granger, become an advocate for those whose stories have been silenced or overlooked. Share their experiences, perspectives, and achievements. Create a safe space and use your platforms to promote inclusivity and diversity. Your platform can include social media, public speaking, or everyday conversations; be a voice for change.
This might be a surprise, but support minority-owned businesses. Economic empowerment is a crucial aspect of the struggle for equality. Be intentional with your spending and make a conscious effort to invest in communities that have historically been marginalized. By contributing to the economic growth and success of black entrepreneurs, you can help foster a more equitable society.
Lastly, use your privilege to advocate for policy reform. Systemic change often requires policy reform. Take inspiration from General Granger's commitment to justice and advocate for policies that address racial disparities and promote equal opportunities. Engage with local, state, and national representatives; write letters, make calls, and participate in peaceful protests to hold lawmakers accountable. By actively participating in the democratic process, together, we can work toward a more just and inclusive society.
Juneteenth serves as a reminder of the progress we have made and all the work that remains. General Granger's actions stand as a blueprint for us to use our power, platform, and influence for the betterment of society. Let us honor the legacy of Juneteenth by having the audacity to educate ourselves, amplifying our voices, intentionally supporting minority-owned businesses, and advocating for policy reform – no matter where in the world we live.