This year, to celebrate Juneteenth, SMRS staff were invited to share their thoughts, feelings, hopes, doubts, and personal truths about this federally recognized holiday. Below you will find a bit of history, hope, heart, and hype.
On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which freed approximately 3.5M enslaved persons living in the ten Confederate States that were at war with the Union. This document allowed those being held, should they be able to escape into Union territory, complete freedom and an invitation to join the Union Army to fight against the Confederates.
On June 19, 1865, General Order No. 3 announcing “all slaves are free” was posted throughout the city of Galveston, Texas, and most likely at the local church the slaves attended. A portion of the order admonished the formerly enslaved “. . .to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” It is thought once the newly emancipated heard the last two lines, they gave a resounding “no way,” and that’s what made the Juneteenth Order memorable and made it succeed.
Hope (direct quotes from staff)
“I don’t know if other programs have had the same experience, but I remember an intern who was offended because we celebrated Juneteenth and we did a presentation in our groups. She reported that this was not a happy day or reason to celebrate. This is a touchy subject, and some individuals are afraid to acknowledge this day or speak of it because of the risk of making someone uncomfortable or offending someone. I love History and believe this should be celebrated and discussed!”
“As we go into the weekend, and I see the images on this email, I am reminded how blessed and empowered one is to make a difference.
African Americans are a diverse group of people with an array of cultures extending back to various African nations. Not everyone had a direct connection to Texas, but we were all subjected to the same threats to life and liberty. Juneteenth also highlights the failure of the government to protect its citizens. Freedom on the books means nothing if opportunities are denied, and people are subjected to acts of terror and displacement (which reached a climax after legal slavery with thousands of lynchings and continued into mass incarceration). True freedom intersects with discussions of equity and reparations, as we all know systemic racism and disparities continue to haunt and threaten us. The struggle continues!”
I have read two emails that talked about persons being offended because we celebrate/acknowledge Juneteenth. This is part of History that is true and was not talked about for so long. Today we must bring things to the light. Lives were lost and families were separated during these sad but real times. Let’s continue to learn about culture and history as a way of opening our minds hearts and spirts to history of different cultures. Yes, it was sad but happy for those that were set free. Knowledge opens our minds up and brings awareness to all if we are willing to learn the truth. May we continue to set our eyes on truth and knowledge for growth.
Heart (direct quotes from staff)
“I can understand how this holiday can be touchy for some, bittersweet. It’s sad to know slavery existed but also grateful it ended, therefore the end of it should be celebrated and to honor those that didn’t get to see it come to an end.”
“Thank you, this is what makes our agency great. I am proud that I work for an organization that acknowledges such a significant part of our history. There is so much more work to be done; however, to acknowledge, honor, and respect this day is a start.”
“This is truly a beautiful thing! River will be honoring Juneteenth on Monday with a short history lesson and art project. . .”
“Brandon, thank you for this wonderful account of your Juneteenth experiences! How exciting you got to see the Compton Cowboys. . Such inspiring work they do and showing how horses with their lack of judgment and strong sense of energy can be such healing creatures. Thank you for representing SMRS at such an important event! I am also glad that our agency demonstrates such high regard for cultural respect, appreciation and understanding.”
“Thank you SMRS for further uplifting the importance of Juneteenth this year and incorporating cultural awareness more generally in our work, because doing so strengthens the community we build together as colleagues and with the residents/participants. . .”
Hype (direct quotes from staff- it’s a good thing!)
“I attended the Juneteenth celebration in Leimert Park this weekend. . . Of significance . . .are representatives of the Compton Cowboys on horseback. As their website reads, the Compton Cowboys are ‘a collective of lifelong friends on a mission to uplift their community through horseback and farming lifestyle, all the while highlighting the rich legacy of African-Americans in equine and western heritage.’ In addition to their community work, the Compton Cowboys have participated in movies, advertising campaigns, and music. They are a regular presence at Juneteenth in Leimert Park and carry on a tradition that often has been left out of the narrative of the western United States. . . .Highlights of the celebratory spirit of Juneteenth with music and dancing that includes all generations (were also presented).”
“On Sunday evening, I was blessed to be in the presence of Congresswoman Maxine Waters . . . Congresswoman Waters aptly captures the events that led to the celebration of Juneteenth – the late notice to Black people who were enslaved in Texas that, in fact and by law, they were free people meant to be treated fairly and equally henceforth. As Regina Owens-Durant shared earlier, learning our collective history is part of acknowledging the pain experienced by different racial, ethnic, and cultural groups and our progress toward freedom as a country – where we were and where we are going. Charles Porter said it well, ‘The struggle continues!’”