Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation years before, it wasn't until June 19, 1865, when slaves in Texas learned they had been freed. As the news spread throughout the state, African Americans celebrated.

The holiday has become known as Juneteenth. It's a state holiday in Texas but also celebrated elsewhere throughout the South. Activities in Valdosta start today with a 7 p.m. fish fry and continue through Saturday, sponsored by The Southside Library Boosters.

Juneteenth is what the Fourth of July symbolizes for all Americans -- freedom, according to the Web site for The National Juneteenth Museum. The Web site describes it as a time to honor "African-American ancestors who survived the inhumane institution of bondage, as well as demonstrating pride in the marvelous legacy of resistance and perseverance they left us."

It's also a time to promote and celebrate education, the major ingredients necessary for advancement of African Americans, or anyone else for that matter.

Education has not come easily for blacks because of past practices and prejudices. It was illegal to teach slaves to read or write. And then legal segregation created inferior schools. Today, of course, prejudices and discrimination continue, but great strides have been made.

In addition to the great many educators who have made Atlanta a mecca of higher education for African Americans, we can point to the accomplishments of black leaders in Georgia such as Attorney General Thurbert Baker and State Supreme Court Justice Leah Sears.

Sears' accomplishments are noteworthy. She was the first African-American woman to serve as a Superior Court judge in Georgia. She was the first woman and the youngest person to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court when appointed in 1992. In seeking election to the Supreme Court, she became the first woman to win a contested statewide election in Georgia.

Shirley Franklin became the first black woman mayor of Atlanta last year, and Jack Ellis became Macon's first black mayor in 1999.

We urge area residents, both black and white, to celebrate Juneteenth for the freedoms that have allowed all Georgians greater access to improving their lives.



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