Black lives matter is not a new concept. It was born out of the desire for common humanity throughout the United States of America. It was the spiritual song of those enslaved, tilling the land. It salted their tears as they raised their owners’ children who would grow to hate them. They were the words they muttered to get through each day, knowing an end would come. Whether it mattered on earth or in heaven, their lives would be acknowledged and appreciated.
History students are taught that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and all of the slaves were free to live happily ever after. This is far from accurate. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 caused the secession of 11 states and the creation of the Confederate States of America. This ignited the Civil War which ended in 1865 with a loss for the newly formed territory and the death of over 600,000 soldiers. After the end of the war, on June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, Texas that all slaves were free, releasing over 250,000 African Americans. Even after the announcement, slaves were held in some Confederate states until the 13th Amendment on December 18, 1865, which abolished slavery in every state. While releasing the enslaved was a long process, by June 19, 1866, all African Americans were able to celebrate their independence.
Since then, Juneteenth has been observed throughout the Black Community as the mark of Independence in this country. Just like that fateful day in Gavelston, every year African Americans across 47 states gather to pray, dance, march, and rejoice in their continued freedom. Georgia officially recognized Juneteenth at the state capitol in 2011 and it continues to be memorialized through barbecues, parades, and church services all over the state.
This day approaches with the heaviness of the modern-day martyrs of the African American community. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbury, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, and countless others have lost their lives bearing the cross of their skin. Juneteenth does not only celebrate the full freedom of all blacks in this country, it is a reminder to the community of the road they have had to march to gain true independence.
Let’s hope this year can open up the opportunity for all of us to share this moment of appreciation. With diverse voices raised together, there is a renewed hope that change will come.