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Columbia Business Monthly

The Meaning of Juneteenth

Jun 19, 2020 10:55AM ● By David Dykes

By Tammy Joyner 

 On June 19th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger strode into Galveston, Tex., on horseback to deliver life-changing news to the nation’s last remaining 250,000 enslaved people in Texas. 

They were free. 

Although they had been freed two and a half years earlier by the Emancipation Proclamation, news and enforcement of President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order was slow getting to them. 

It occurred to me today on the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth that the message of racial inequities and social injustice has been slow in reaching many Americans. 

That is until Memorial Day 2020. 

The Memorial Day murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd became America’s Juneteenth of sorts. 

It was the day many white Americans came face-to-face with what Black Americans have known all along: being Black in America can be deadly. 

The jarring video of a white police officer’s knee on a Black man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds was not only a literal but figurative illustration of white America's failure to fully understand the rights of all Americans as well as the inequities faced by many Americans.

It was the day some brutal truths hit home with many white Americans who saw for themselves with their own eyes that all is not right or equal in America. 

My parents have always taught me truth - however brutal - is freeing. 

My hope is that through all of the protests and clashes sparked by Floyd’s death, America can somehow find its lesson and learn from it. 

For many Black Americans, Juneteenth is a day of celebration, food and festivals, dating back to a year after members of the enslaved community in Galveston, Tex., learned they were free. 

Back then, the freed men and women in Texas organized an annual celebration calling it Jubilee Day. Early celebrations were used to help freed slaves learn about their voting rights. 

In some parts of the country, it’s known as Jubilee Day. Other parts call it Freedom Day. 

Whatever it’s called, Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance by 47 of the 50 states. South Carolina began recognizing Juneteenth in 2008. (Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakotas do not recognize Juneteenth). 

It is seen as the real Independence Day for Black Americans or at least the second Independence Day. 

Meanwhile, activists and politicians continue to push to have June 19 declared a national holiday. 

The significance of this day is not lost on many South Carolinians who two days ago marked the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Nine Black parishioners were killed by a white separatist during a Bible study. 

This year’s Juneteenth comes amid racial unrest, social injustice, police brutality and a sour national economy in which Blacks bear most of the hardship. 

The U.S. unemployment rate was 13.3 percent in May, down from 14.7 percent in April. 

A closer look shows the unemployment rate for white Americans fell from 14.2 percent to 12.4 percent in May. But the unemployment rate for Black Americans was unchanged at 16.8 percent, the highest since 1984. The rate was higher for Black women than for Black men at 16.2 percent versus 15.3 percent. 

If these numbers aren’t a stark reminder we have a lot of work to do as a country, then the Floyd video surely is. 

Tammy Joyner is a freelance journalist in Atlanta, Ga. 


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