On Juneteenth, let’s be ‘better together’

This week, I was educated on an American holiday known as “Juneteenth.”

Before this, about all I knew about the holiday was that it occurred in June, was celebrated mostly by black Americans and it was connected in some way to the emancipation of all American enslaved people in 1865.

A week from today, Winchester will celebrate Juneteenth with a new event. More about that in a bit, but first a history lesson.

Juneteenth — a word created by combining “June” with “nineteenth” — is recognized as a day to celebrate the end of slavery in the U.S.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, it did not apply to enslaved black people living in the south until the end of the Civil War.

General Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865, effectively ended the war. Still, the word did not immediately reach many people in the south for months.

It was on June 19, 1865, that the Emancipation Proclamation was read to enslaved people in Texas. Texas was the last Confederate state to have the proclamation announced.

But slavery was not ended in the so-called border states, including Kentucky, until the ratification of the 13th Amendment on Dec. 18, 1865.

Border states were officially part of the Union throughout the Civil War, meaning slavery persisted in the Union for some eight months after having ended in the former Confederate States of America.

Nevertheless, the June 19 became instilled as a day of celebration and remembrance.

As early as 1866, annual celebrations began to be observed in Texas to commemorate the date. The events soon spread to other states.

Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, the celebration is now recognized as a state holiday in 47 states, including Kentucky.

Early celebrations were hampered by the harsh realities of life following abolition.

Segregation set in quickly in the south. Organizers of the first Texas celebrations were barred from public parks and plazas.

In the 1870s, a group of formerly enslaved people in Houston collected $800 and bought 10 acres of land, where they created Emancipation Park, primarily to host Juneteenth celebrations.

In the century and a half since, the number of celebrations of Juneteenth has waxed and waned.

In the early 20th century, observances declined — and the downward trend continued throughout the depression and early post-World War II years.

With the ivil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, interest began to rise again.

For most of its history, Juneteenth has been observed almost exclusively by black Americans. However, in recent years, some activities have begun to draw interest from people of all ethnicities.

This year’s observance of Juneteenth comes at a particularly fraught time for America. The events of the past few weeks are a reminder that, while we’ve made progress, we still have much work to do.

I feel strongly that white people must become more involved in the struggle for full equality for every American. One small way we can do so is to join our black brothers and sisters in observing this important milestone in our shared history.

So here’s our opportunity.

The Winchester “Together for Justice” march will take place Friday, June 19.

Better Together Winchester is the organizer of the event, which will be a peaceful walk suitable for anyone. The group welcomes civic, church and business groups, as well as families and individuals.

Marchers will begin to assemble in front of the courthouse at 5 p.m. The march will start by 5:30 p.m., and proceed to Heritage Park for the Winchester Black History and Heritage Committee’s Juneteenth event at 6 p.m.

Organizers encourage participants to bring signs and observe guidelines for physical distancing and face coverings.

Better Together Winchester is a group formed in April 2017 to address the issues described in the “Waving Our Community’s Flag Report,” which the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation published in 2017 for The Greater Clark Foundation.

BTW chose to focus their efforts on facilitating opportunities for civil engagements that build inclusive relationships and foster equity and a sense of belonging across our community.

As part of that mission, BTW has sponsored community forums, diversity training and other events designed to educate and bring people together.

More information can be found on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/bettertogetherwinchester/.

I plan to be there for the march next Friday, and I hope to see you there.

This article appeared in The Winchester Sun on June 12, 2020.

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