Nearly 150 years after the last slaves in Texas had been liberated from the shackles of white slave owners the UTD Multicultural Center dedicated their efforts to celebrate this momentous day in African American history by hosting the annual Juneteenth Celebration this past Friday in the Visitor’s Center atrium.
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and a step towards freedom for all. Dating back to June 19, 1865, Union leader General Gordon Granger charged through the ports of Galveston, Texas with his troops and officially declared that the heinous establishment of slavery had been rescinded and thus the bloody civil war had been concluded.
Throughout America’s short life, its most iconic moment in history would have to be the signing of the Declaration of Independence which severed ties with Great Britain and propelled the country into an era of Independence. The words “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” are etched into our soul and resonate deeply within us. Many believe that July 4, 1776, Independence Day, symbolizes the beginning of life for the free man and woman.
This time period however, only marked the beginning of freedom for the men and women of our country; for we cannot say we are free until every individual is free. Fredrick Douglass articulated about the partition between the white and the colored man’s freedom on the Independence Day of 1852: “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me…This Fourth (of) July is yours, not mine.” Upon hearing these words we are thus reminded of the division between black and white in our country.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”- General Gordon Granger
Upon hearing Gordon’s proclamation, the newly freed men and women rejoiced in their new found freedom as Gordon’s words resonated in their ears, and thus began a series of jubilant festivities which became known as Juneteenth. Although Juneteenth is not a nationally recognized holiday it is still celebrated in great reverie across the nation, especially in Texas, the last state to receive news of the abolition of slavery.
With several hundred attendees, faculty and students from all paths of life rejoiced together and celebrated their shared freedom with all. The event was inaugurated by our melodious Melody Jackson who moved the crowd as she sang the Star Spangled Banner and was followed by Mahogany, a member of the Jason Davis Band, led the crowd in Lift Every Voice and Sing. Thereafter, the attendees were debriefed about the significance of Juneteenth and partook in a moment of silence in honor of those who had lost their lives in the fight for freedom. Afterwards the solemn reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by our very own Director and Vice President of Cultural Affairs, Mr. Arthur Gregg gave entrance into the festivities.
The festivities were comprised of a medley of activities. Traditional Texas style BBQ left many hungry souls walking back for seconds. Ice cold popsicles not only made us reminisce about our childhood but helped to cool down from the scorching summer heat. Lively carnival games gave everyone the opportunity to bring forth their most competitive spirit and compete for several prizes. And to top everything off, a live performance from the Jason David Band tinged the air with vibrant merriment for all to sing and dance to.
Amid all the animated souls and lively music, the main highlight of our night was the freedom wall, a unique addition contrary to prior years. Here, students, staff, and faculty were asked to define what freedom meant to them.
“Freedom is never free.”
“Freedom is being able to dream.”
“Freedom is a blessing.”
“Freedom means being able to do anything you want as long as you don’t hurt others.”
“Freedom should never be taken for granted.”
“Freedom is life undefined.”
“True freedom means to free your soul, free your mind, and to free your body.”
“Freedom is an identity.”
“Freedom is not an option, it is a necessity.”
“Freedom is the ability and strength to be able to do what you want.”
“Freedom means choosing your own path and way of life.”
While Juneteenth commemorates a milestone for many within the African American communities, the day transgresses past all racial divides and marks an important step in American history in our journey for freedom for all.
Our hearts go out to the nine victims whose lives were so cruelly taken away all too soon. May their souls rest in peace and the deep rooted division which still lies in the heart of America be dispelled. This recent act portrays the effects of hatred, bigotry, racism, and division which are unfortunately all too prevalent in today’s day and age. Despite how far we have progressed in history, our country still has a long way to go before it can truly become a nation where nobody is judged for the color of his or her skin. However, we do know that our country is taking a step towards the right direction, and with your help we can reach our goal towards equality and justice for all. This Juneteenth we ask that you not only reflect upon what freedom means to you, but also look ahead to how we can make our country more free for all.