Juneteenth

One of this country’s great historians, Annette Gordon-Reed, has written a powerful book about Juneteenth and her own personal connection to this holiday. Marking emancipation, it also recalls slavery. Marking oppression, it also points to the possibilities for positive change. Professor Gordon-Reed has underscored her own ambivalence about this history:

Historians are, of course, supposed to reject out of hand this type of Whiggish narrative of American history, one driven by faith in the idea of inevitable progress toward a better, more enlightened destination. The American experiment does not have to “work.” Empires and nations rise and fall. But while I am a historian, I am also an American. In thinking about the country, I experience a classic split between my head and my heart. Intellectually, I know there is no reason at all to believe in any particular direction of the American future. As we have seen, and been reminded daily to an absolutely exhausting degree, anything can happen. At the same time, in my heart, I have hoped. I’ve wanted to believe that the country that started with dispossession of native peoples, slavery, and a dedication to white supremacy could live up to the more idealistic aspirations of its founding—the statements about equality and the pursuit of happiness, and the desire to create a representative democracy in which the people were sovereign.

That vision of the future has been challenged of late. But, as in years past, the many people who share this vision have mobilized in support of it. I suppose that is the most that can be hoped for, because that kind of struggle is the only way better futures can be made.

Middletown will mark Juneteenth on Saturday, June 18th. Alison Williams, VP for Equity and Inclusion, notes:

On Saturday, June 18, Middletown will have a Juneteenth celebration in Smith Park. Wesleyan’s Office for Equity & Inclusion is a Gold sponsor of this event. We invite everyone to come out and celebrate with us.

Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Black Independence Day.  It marks the date when, on June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery.  The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, had legally freed slaves in Texas on January 1, 1863, almost 2½ years earlier. Even after the general order, some slave masters withheld the information from their enslaved Black people, holding them captive through at least one more harvest season. Thus, Juneteenth became a symbolic date representing African American freedom.

Juneteenth is a time when we can reflect on the painful mistakes of our nation’s past and work towards racial reconciliation, honoring the day as a time for healing, learning and taking action. Many families honor the day by hosting a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. It is also a time when we celebrate the significant contributions of African Americans to every aspect of American culture.

Alison asks me to note that she is the 4th generation descendant of Frank Lightner, a slave, the offspring of Mollie and Lightner, who enslaved her.

There are many Juneteenth celebrations throughout Connecticut. A day to remember.

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