On this day 155 years ago, enslaved Black Americans in Texas were finally informed that they were free — two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — when Union Army soldiers arrived in Galveston, TX, to announce the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. Back then, Texas was the last of the Confederate states where enslavement continued.
Attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still, another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which or none of these versions could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question. Whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory. [Source: juneteenth.com/history]
Now recognized annually on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates Black freedom in America, and it serves as a time for reflection, celebration, and education.
Here are five ways you can commemorate this important day in American history:
Educate yourself and those around you on antiracism and systemic prejudice. There are so many books, shows and films out there. (When ordering new books, make sure your dollars are going to Black-owned independent bookstores.) Also be sure to check out free content like 1619, a podcast from The New York Times, as well as resources from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture.
Donate to organizations working to dismantle systemic racism and fighting for justice for the Black community, such as Black Lives Matter, The Bail Project, ACLU, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Also, consider these 137 ways to donate in support of Black lives and communities of color.
Call on elected officials to defund the police. Contact your state representatives and city council members and demand that they reduce police resources and reallocate those funds to education and social services. And sign the national Black Lives Matter petition.
Vote in November for candidates who will address racial injustice, police brutality, and criminal justice reform. Make sure all your friends are registered to vote. If you haven’t done so already, set up your mail-in ballot with your state’s elections office to make participating in the political process even easier.