As an historic site and community center, Historic Fort Steuben is committed to supporting events and occasions that help us reflect on our past and learn for the future. The Juneteenth celebration this year is a 4-day community project and will take place at three sites featuring entertainment, food, speakers, and activities for the youth.
Many may be unfamiliar with this new federal holiday, so here are some thoughts on it.
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued 2 ½ years earlier, the news had not reached Texas until the arrival of Granger and his troops.
The early celebrations of freedom reflected the exuberance of people finally having choices in life…choices which most of us take for granted. Choices in what they wore, what they ate, how they worshiped, and how they finally could live together as intact families. Families would gather and wear their best and most colorful clothes, serve unlimited amounts of favorite foods, and worship in joyous and enthusiastic praise.
As the national Juneteenth committee has explained: “Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a time marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics, and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long overdue. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.”
The Fort's collaborating with various organizations to educate and celebrate is in keeping with the tradition of Juneteenth. By working together, learning and understanding each other’s histories and cultures, we can be an example to other communities of how we all can live in peace and fulfill President Lincoln’s desire:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in….to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”