by Mary Eshet
This month’s New Moon is on the eve of Juneteenth, the annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States. Both the holiday and the new moon only hint at much larger significance.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation – when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and issued an order informing the people of Texas that those who were enslaved were then free.
Tyran Green, a social worker and co-chair of the Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance (BJA), says Juneteenth is a time of “remembrance and joy…. an opportunity to reflect upon the struggles endured by enslaved people in America and acknowledge the hardships faced by our direct ancestors. We accomplish this by recounting their stories, honoring their names, and sharing the enduring legacy they have left behind.”
Aishaah Reed Foster, an attorney and incoming co-chair of the BJA, reflects that she has mixed feelings about the commercialization of Juneteenth, and believes that “some of the history gets lost in the shuffle.”
The history of slavery and its long-lasting impacts on our nation and society cannot be captured by one day or by commemorating one event. Indeed, there are other significant dates that could serve as the anchor for celebrating freedom and the end of slavery.
…Sept. 22: the day Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Order in 1862
…Jan. 1: the day the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863
…Jan. 31: the date the 13th Amendment passed Congress in 1865, officially abolishing the institution of slavery
…Dec. 6: the day the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865
…or April 3rd, 9th, or 16, the day Richmond, Va., fell, the day Lee surrendered to Ulysses Grant and the day slavery was abolished in the nation’s capital in 1862, respectively.
Most obviously, July 4, the nation’s first Independence Day, could have been a contender, given its observance some “four score and seven years” before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation – but the irony of that choice is obvious.
Regardless of which date was chosen, it is astounding that it took more than 150 years, until 2021, to establish a national holiday to celebrate emancipation. This lack of action for so long reflects the difficulty our nation – land of the free – has in coming to terms with a history that includes slavery and bondage.
The choice of Juneteenth seems significant in that it highlights the need to go beyond words, beyond laws, to truly effect liberation and justice. The story of Juneteenth teaches us that creating freedom and equity is not something that can be done in a day with a proclamation. It takes perseverance and resilience.
James Lee, a community organizer and advocate for the Greenspon Center’s social justice and community organizing certification program, shares that he only found out about Juneteenth when he was in his late twenties. He emphasizes that the holiday must be accompanied with a broader understanding of history to be meaningful. “It can spark hard conversations we have needed to have for years,” he said. “It has to be more than just showing the heart for a day without continuing the conversation.”
The holiday of Juneteenth is like the New Moon – only a tiny sliver of the full light we need to shine on history and the challenges we still face today. It is a moment in time, but also a reminder that this work, these conversations are for every day of the year, not just on a holiday.
Celebrations and sharing stories are important for carrying on the efforts. Ty Green shared that he will celebrate by engaging in “activities that symbolize the happiness our ancestors must have experienced upon gaining their freedom and being recognized as human beings. These activities include singing, dancing, preparing African and American cuisine, passing down oral traditions, playing drums, and engaging in diverse art forms.”
At the Greenspon Center, we recognize the work of combatting hate and oppression is never done. Along the way, it is important to celebrate successes and progress, but at the same time we redouble our efforts to guard against backsliding and continue the work to create a better world for everyone. We invite you to learn more about our efforts and join us!