FREEDOM…It is what everyone dreams of, hopes for, and is willing to fight for.
The famous song written by Jazz musician Billy Taylor, “I Wish I Knew”, expresses how deeply he wished to know how it felt to be free. It was also the long and drawn-out cries of the black slaves of this nation. However, the lyrics of their bloodied song were silenced by the rising tones of what it felt like to be extremely wealthy and powerful because of the brute oppression and free labor. Those cries would then carry throughout hundreds of years of legal lynching, murder, beating, reluctant compliance, rebellion, uprisings, and sheer terror.
Nevertheless, in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln in a bold political move as Commander-in-Chief made the arduous decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, which set millions of enslaved Black peoples free throughout the seceded Confederate States. Moreover, in April 1865, came the abolishment of chattel slavery in the United States according to the 13th amendment.
One town located in the most western state of the confederacy, however, stood still in the dark of what was past for those of the other confederate states until two years later in 1865. On June 19, 1865, the town of Galveston, TX, received news from the Union Army “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The people rejoiced!
June 19 of the following year marked the one-year anniversary of that day and the commemoration of the struggles against slavery and the celebration of freedom would commence. From that day forward “Juneteenth” (a mash-up of June and 19th) would be celebrated all over the US with exhibitions of Black history and culture, backyard barbeques, parades, street festivals, live music, entertainment, dancing, and food!
Finally, after over 150 years of informal celebration, on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the bill making Juneteenth a legal public holiday. This came after the deaths of many unarmed blacks at the hands of injustice and much work and sacrifice from dedicated groups, activists, and committees throughout history.
Now that Juneteenth is recognized in all 50 states, we can all celebrate the end of legal chattel slavery in America together. But let us not only celebrate but use this time to delve deeper into African American history in the U.S. and become more knowledgeable of ways we can actively work toward what Billy’s song spoke of, the ability to see and agree every man should be free!
Joann is an Experience Facilitator with EVPL.
200 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd
Evansville, Indiana 47713