Above photo: Emancipation Day celebration, June 19, 1900 held in “East Woods” on East 24th Street in Austin. Credit: Austin History Center.
My family’s story begins with a nameless woman, a slave. Animal enough to work her White master’s fields by day, she was still human enough to work in his bed at night. Like many other enslaved women, my maternal ancestor bore her master at least one child.
Though my family story may be different than yours, there is a universal longing for freedom and equality that permeates the very fabric of our collective humanity. Which is why #Juneteenth matters to all of us.
What is Juneteenth?
Last year, I wrote an article on “Freedom’s Eve” that celebrated the day that the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. But emancipation could not be enforced in areas under Confederate control such as the Confederate state of Texas. On June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, 2,000 Union troops entered Galveston Bay in Texas. By executive decree, the army announced that the 250,000 slaves in the state of Texas were free.
June 19th became truncated to “Juneteenth” by the former slaves with the earliest celebrations dating back to 1866.
Why does Juneteenth matter today?
It would be nearly impossible to list all the horrors that were inflicted upon enslaved Blacks. As an historical researcher and educator who specifically writes about racial justice, there is much that I can share. I could talk about the dogs that were specially bred and trained to attack people with dark skin. I could share that enslaved women had hoods placed over their heads and were forced to copulate with men they did not love—sometimes even close family members.
I could detail the system of appreciation/depreciation that assigned value to both the adults and the children of these coerced unions. Children who were sold as quickly as possible to ensure the survival of an international system of exploitation.
But sometimes words fail.
Juneteenth is important because it reminds us of a past we—regardless of our race or ethnicity— must never forget and a future that is ours to shape.
Freedom through facing truth
You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.John 8:32
These words hold both spiritual and literal meaning. Knowing the truth is a liberating experience. But truth is not always easy to face. Still, we must confront it if we hope to create a future that is free from the defects of the past.
Juneteenth celebrates freedom. But buried in the celebration is the painful reminder of the raw ugliness of a fallen humanity. And therein lies the commonality. All of us search for freedom from whatever binds us.
While I sincerely hope that no one reading this has endured the horrors of physical slavery, all of us, in our own way, have felt fear. Rejection. Humiliation and perhaps the feeling that our life is worthlessness.
Juneteenth reminds us that we humans share the bond of tragedy, but we also share the power of hope. On this day, let us join hands and hearts, purposing to make tomorrow brighter than today. For we have been blessed with life. And, to quote Tolstoy, “as long as there is life, there is hope.”
Facing my own past
Knowing that I owe my existence to a system of bondage and exploitation is a very sobering reality. But I am resolved to use the time that I have been given for good.
I like to think that, somewhere beyond the reach of time, God allows this nameless woman to look down and see that good has come into the world despite the evil she endured.
Humbly I say that lives have been saved. Hearts changed. Families rebuilt through prayer and faith. And while this doesn’t undo the horror of the past it does give it all a shadow of meaning.
On Juneteenth we pause to remember and purpose to make tomorrow better than today.
Press, A. (2021, June 17). Juneteenth is now a national holiday. how did it come to pass?. PBS. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/juneteenth-is-now-a-national-holiday-how-did-it-come-to-pass
The historical legacy of Juneteenth. National Museum of African American History and Culture. (2023, June 1). https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/historical-legacy-juneteenth
P.S. Enjoy free short stories about Black world-changers when you subscribe to my email! On Juneteenth 2023, I will share Episode 1 of The Armistead files with subscribers.
The Price of Freedom
James Armistead must decide whether to fight for the freedom of the American colonies—the country that enslaved him and will likely keep him in chains if they win their revolution—or join the British who offer freedom to all negroes. As a slave, Armistead will likely never marry the woman he loves. But America promises to be a country where anything is possible. What choice will he make?
About JP Robinson
JP Robinson is a prolific award-winning author. He graduated from SUNY Stony Brook university at 19 with a Bachelor’s degree in English and another in French. He is currently wrapping up his Master’s of Education.
JP is a contributor to Guideposts, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, and the Salvation Army’s War Cry. His work has been praised by industry leaders such as Publishers Weekly and secured the #1 spot on Amazon’s historical thrillers category.