Picture this: It is June 19, 1865, on a hot Texas day. Clouds decorate the bright blue sky. On a farm outside of the city of Galveston, Texas, a man hoes corn. Five miles away, a teenage boy chops wood. Close-by, a woman is busy scrubbing the wooden floor of a property owner. The woman’s sister nearby, milks a cow in the barn. These activities, proverbially-speaking, seem like just a normal day (Nelson and Nelson, 2006).
Then a message arrives to these people from President Abraham Lincoln – by way of Gen. Gordon Granger – to tell these people (Black slaves) that they were free. Black slaves no longer had to be subject to the torment, horrors and degradation of American slavery.
When the news of freedom reached the man in the cornfield, tears rolled down his cheeks; the teenage wood-cutter planted his ax inside of a wooden stump and ran to give his father a hug; the woman on the wooden floor stopped scrubbing, got up from her wet remnants and began to dance; and her sister dropped a bucket of freshly squeezed cow’s milk and gave the Lord God his praise.
Slavery in America had been eliminated and June 19, 1865 was indeed a day of Jubilee or a time of rejoicing.
Though message of the Emancipation Proclamation (Lincoln’s executive order to end slavery in America) came two years later for Black slaves from the state of Texas and other parts of the country, it still was welcome news. When the news reached Black slaves in Galveston, the street resounded with voices singing and shouting, “We’re free! Free! Free! No more auction block for me. We’re free! Free! Free! No more slavery chains for me. We’re free! Free! Free! No more captain’s whip for me.”
The end of slavery for Black people was a cause to celebrate. Which may cause some individuals to question the reason behind the annual Juneteenth Celebration. On June 19, 1866 – one year after the Texas slaves learned of their freedom – they came together to celebrate. Galveston, Texas was a festive setting.
The city was alive with music, the air was filled with the smell of sweet and savory, smoky barbecue, Black Texans wore their Sunday best clothing and there was a host of hugs, slavery storytelling and the singing of ole Negro spirituals such as “Wade in the Water” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
Additionally, the annual celebration of Juneteenth is open to all people, though for Black Americans, the event is marked by the eating of barbecue, potato salad, biscuits, home-made ice cream, pies, watermelon and red velvet cake and red soda pop. The red honors the blood shed during slavery and in Black Americans struggle for freedom.
Hence, the annual Juneteenth Celebration is not just a day of fun and festivities, rather it should be time to remember.
Carlos D. Hundley is a native of Valdosta and a local public school teacher and nonprofit worker.