EDITOR’S NOTE: The Palmetto Project sent the following thoughts to supporters ahead of the annual Juneteenth observance. We thought you would find them to be compelling.
Juneteenth, also known as “Freedom Day,” commemorates the emancipation of the slaves after the Civil War, and is officially observed in most other states. This year, the holiday will be observed on Monday, June 20, and, accordingly, our offices at the Palmetto Project will be closed. By recognizing this holiday as an organization, our hope is that this action will inspire others in South Carolina to follow our example.
The date of Juneteenth – June 19, 1865 – is significant because it is the day that a federal general amassed his troops in Galveston, Texas, and bluntly announced that all slaves were free. The site of the announcement in Texas was particularly significant because so many slaveholders in the South had migrated there with their slaves in the face of the slow demise of the Confederate states.
Of course, the event brought great jubilation to the former slaves and those whites opposed to slavery. The time has come to stop thinking that this is a holiday exclusively reserved for African Americans. That all Americans live in a nation that rejects slavery and struggles against oppression of all kinds is a good thing in which we can all find reason enough to rejoice.
However, we should not forget that the announcement in 1865 was followed by extensive violence against the former slaves perpetuated by their former white masters. Some of the slaveholders even prohibited news of the announcement to their slaves until the cotton harvest in the fall could be completed.
Later in history, there were two other events that happened on or around Juneteenth that amplify its significance for us at the Palmetto Project.
In 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there was an astonishing and brutal massacre of 300 African American citizens by frightened whites, who went on a rampage against their African American brothers and sisters. Large swaths of the town were wiped out by fire and other violent acts.
In 2015 in Charleston, there was a massacre of nine African Americans – two days before the Juneteenth celebration that year — at Emanuel AME Church by a lone gunman, who hoped to start a race war. We at the Palmetto Project were particularly affected by this shooting because – like so many people in Charleston – the victims were our friends.
Both instances are reminders that the struggle for freedom is both ongoing and dangerous. However, as President Abraham Lincoln said, freedom is at the core of our identity as a nation, and none of us are truly free unless we all are.
Steve Skardon is executive director of the Palmetto Project, a statewide advocacy leader in North Charleston that puts innovative social and economic strategies into action.
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