Commemorating Juneteenth and Supporting Black Lives Matter

On June 19, 1865, enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free. Now, 155 years later, people in cities and towns across the U.S. continue to mark the occasion with celebrations.  (Here are brief guides to what you should know about Juneteenth from the New York Times and the Congressional Research Service.)

Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. It is also known as Emancipation Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day. 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. Although the Emancipation Proclamation came 21⁄2 years earlier on January 1, 1863, many slave owners continued to hold their slaves captive after the announcement, so Juneteenth became a symbolic date representing African American freedom

Texans celebrated Juneteenth beginning in 1866, with community-centric events, such as parades, cookouts, prayer gatherings, historical and cultural readings, and musical performances. Over time, communities have developed their own traditions. Some communities purchased land for Juneteenth celebrations, such as Emancipation Park in Houston, TX. As families emigrated from Texas to other parts of the United States, they carried the Juneteenth celebrations with them.

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth officially became a Texas state holiday. Since then, 45 other states, including NH (2019), and the District of Columbia have also commemorated or observed the day.

This year – perhaps more so than in recent years – Juneteenth is a date that demands reflection as well as recognition. On May 25th, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, MN during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. He suffocated as the result of a chokehold – a knee to the throat – by an arresting officer. The incident was captured on video and cries for justice resounded across our nation and around the world. Here in New Hampshire, thousands of Granite States gathered in peaceful support of Black Lives Matter. In Nashua, approximately 1,000 people gathered for a Black Lives Matter vigil in Greeley Park on Saturday evening, June 6.

The event was put on by Black Lives Matter Nashua and the Greater Nashua area NAACP. The night was peaceful and filled with a collection of speeches and songs. (Photo is from a southerly angle showing some of the crowd gathered for the event.) Speakers included local activists, community leaders and volunteers, Nashua’s mayor, and state and federal legislators.

In a recent statement on Black Lives Matter issued by House Majority Leader Doug Ley (D-Jaffrey). Rep. Ley said, “…We must acknowledge and address the deep-rooted inequality that has permeated our society and the criminal justice system since the birth of this nation. New Hampshire has not been immune to these realities but New Hampshire also has a long history of advocacy for equality. Whether it be the enslaved Granite Staters petitioning for freedom in 1779, the unstinting work of abolitionist and feminist Parker Pillsbury in the 1840s & 1850s, the many sons of the Granite State who gave their lives in the Civil War, or civil rights activist Jonathan Daniels of Keene who in 1965 sacrificed his life so another might live, the Granite State has a proud history of activism on behalf of equality, humanity and justice.  These are values intrinsic to our state and who we are.”

At the conclusion of the New Hampshire House session on Thursday, June 11, Representatives Charlotte DiLorenzo (D-Newmarket) and Linda Harriott-Gathright (D-Nashua) took Unanimous Consent to speak about George Floyd. An excerpt from that speech follows:

The whole world is watching America: the land of the free, a land where the lives of black men, women and children have suffered and been killed by racist violence for over 400 years. Today we say “enough is enough.” It’s time America, for you to fulfill your promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for not just some of the people but for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, national origin, sexual identity, age, disability or income level. This is America’s promise.”

Juneteenth celebrates January 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX and announced the end of both the Civil War and slavery. His announcement, General Order Number 3, read in part: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property…”

Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery. This year, let’s observe the day by acknowledging that there is still work to do to help America fulfill its promise of “absolute equality of personal rights…” and of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…for all people.”