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Juneteenth: Past, present and future black America

Posted at 9:31 PM, Jun 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-18 16:33:32-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Juneteenth. It's not just history. It's not just an anniversary. It's the past, present and future all tied together, moments in time that define the black experience in America.

Friday, June 19, marks 155 years since a federal order was read in Galveston, Texas saying all enslaved people in Texas were free.

It's an anniversary that has special meaning for me.

My grandfather always tells me Juneteenth is not just a day, it's a part of who I am. After all, I was born just a stroll away from where Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger stood out on a balcony in Galveston to tell the slaves they were free.

"As of this moment the slaves of Texas will be free and they will have the same accordance as their master if they were to work they would be hired and they would be paid a fair wage," Dr. Lynn Ray Ellison said.

Let's do the math. The announcement came in 1865 but really Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation 2.5 years before. That means the slaves were free but didn't know because the news took that long to reach them.

"Freedom to them was much more than it is to us now," Ellison said. "Before this happened the only thing our ancestors had to look forward to was the sizzling heat, the rawhide whip of the overseer."

I admit I grew up competing in Juneteenth pageants and going to the park every year to celebrate but even I couldn't fathom the weight the day held for those kept in captivity for more than 200 years in America.

June 19 became Juneteenth the day black people celebrate finally being free at last from bondage.

"Back in the days there were ball games, rodeos, field days, barbecues, nobody was selling anything," Ellison said.

Originally, everything was free on Juneteenth. Over the years, that's evolved but the message hasn't changed.

Although Juneteenth started in Texas it is now celebrated throughout the nation as a day of enrichment and enlightenment but it is also a day to show respect for all cultures.