This month Americans celebrate Juneteenth – well, at least some Americans. Many of us don’t even know what that holiday is. Juneteenth celebrates the day in June 1865 when Union troops, upon their arrival in Texas, announced to Texas slaves that they were free. Indeed, it is a momentous day for all Americans.
That history is not very far from us. I remember as a child, my great grandmother telling me how her father was shot in both legs at Gettysburg. Today, my dad told me that as a young boy in the 1920’s he spoke with Jake Hill, a civil war vet, at the Memorial Day parades. The grandfather of a close friend of mine was born a slave in Virginia.
Freed slaves and abolitionists forced the issue of emancipation upon both white Southerners and white Northerners, enabling leaders like Thaddeus Stevens to create the political pathway for liberation. And when President Lincoln realized he needed more troops and opened up the army to blacks, 200,000 joined up and fought with courage, bravery, and dignity for the cause of freedom.
Juneteenth is a history of liberation that we can be proud of and celebrate, but it is also a reminder of our nation’s history of slavery that haunts us to this day. Some talk as if the South was unanimous in seeing the civil war as the War of Northern Aggression. That may have been true for a majority of white southerners, but for the slaves the end of the Civil War meant liberation. So all Americans – living under a flag representing a nation with liberty and justice for all – should celebrate Juneteenth!