Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. This year organizers, Rickie Brown Sr., co-founder and CEO of Juneteenth Chicago, NFP and co-founder Charles Jenkins have organized a four-day celebration, including weekend festivities at Garfield Park. Mr. Brown and Jenkins said everyone is welcome, and that they hope West Side residents will come out and enjoy the four-day event.
Juneteenth celebrations began in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. It was on this day that the slaves in Galveston learned that they were free. The Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston with the news that the war had ended and all slaves were free. For these slaves, the news of freedom came 2 1/2 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the proclamation stating that “all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall then, henceforward, and forever free, and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
Lincoln, however, did not free all of the slaves as it is often misunderstood or exaggerated historically. The proclamation declared all slaves free in those states in rebellion against the United States, not for those in support of the Union.
Lincoln, in issuing the proclamation, was to free slaves in Confederate-held territory that he otherwise couldn’t free, but leave them in slavery in Union-held territory, where he could have freed them.
Lerone Bennett in his book “Forced Into Glory” writes about the mythology of the ‘great emancipator,’: “In what some critics call a hoax and others call a ploy not to free African-Americans but to keep them in slavery, Lincoln deliberately drafted the proclamation so that it wouldn’t free a single slave immediately.”
Lincoln, Bennett also points out, worked to organize a national campaign to deport blacks, which never materialized.
Today, however, we celebrate Juneteenth and emphasize education, family and achievements. In some areas celebrations are for a day, week or even a month. It is a day for reflecting and understanding black culture, and a continued celebration of self-improvement.