Juneteenth may be the greatest holiday you never heard of. Commemorating the end of slavery, it reminds us how precious, how joyful freedom can be.
On June 19, 1865, Gen. Gordon Granger of the occupying Union Army proclaimed to the people of Galveston, Texas, that slavery was abolished. Well aware of the South’s surrender in April, whites greeted Granger’s decree with stony silence. For blacks, however, the announcement about their liberation was news. Their masters hadn’t gotten around to telling them about the Civil War’s end, or about Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier. Observers report an eruption of whooping and cheering that swept the city. One suddenly free woman recalled, “We all walked down the road, crying and singing to beat the band.”
What made America’s slavery particularly barbaric was denying any legal protection to slave families. Owners could sell their “property” regardless of bonds of kinship or love. Within weeks many of Galveston’s ex-slaves left the region in search of long-separated children, spouses and parents.
But first they partied.
Newly freed slaves celebrated outdoors for days. Storytelling contests, marathons of song and dance, feasts of food they had served but never tasted … two and a half centuries of suppressed happiness was given spontaneous release.
Slavery poisoned the nation’s values, and destroying this evil liberated all Americans. Juneteenth deserves to be celebrated by everyone, black and white, yellow and brown.
Celebrated how? Fifteen states have declared Juneteenth an official holiday; no surprise that Indiana isn’t one. No problem, Juneteenth is a time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures that don’t require government mandate. If Thanksgiving is Turkey Day, Juneteenth is “Barbecue Day.” This weekend, fire up the grill with family and friends (old and new).
If you’d like your kid to experience a traditional Texas Juneteenth celebration, head to the Children’s Museum June 17 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. for a day of games, skits and food. Or take the family to Martin University’s “Community Day” on June 17 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. for music, educational workshops, health tests and the university’s president and founder Father Boniface Hardin’s famous tribute to Frederick Douglass. Martin University is located at 2171 Avondale Place. For information contact Danita Hoskin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-543-3242, or visit www.martin.edu.
A natural place to celebrate Juneteenth this weekend might be the Indianapolis Jazz Fest. Few local events feature a more natural blending of colors on stage or in the audience. For a century, jazz has been created by blacks and whites, playing together as equals. What better image for what race relations can become? What better way to celebrate the great holiday of Juneteenth?