By LaKeshia Myers
When the sun rose in Galveston, Texas, the morning of June 19, 1865, I wonder if my ancestors felt something in the air. I wonder if they noticed the two thousand union troops who had arrived on horseback the night before; did they sense they were about to become a part of American history? I can only imagine that they looked on with anticipation as General Granger stepped on the balcony of Ashton Villa, his troops scattered in the street below and he began to read General Order Number Three.
“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 between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere” (Granger, 1865).
Those words, spoken one hundred fifty-five years ago, embody the hope, the vision, and the prowess of my ancestors. They were able to see the dawning of a new era. The ability to be free to go into business for themselves; to travel to other parts of the country; the ability to vote; to be educated; to negotiate wages; the ability to be treated as unfettered men and women. But this newfound freedom was short lived. As Reconstruction was ended by President Andrew Johnson in 1877, Jim Crow was introduced and would continue to impede the liberty of African Americans until 1968.
This is why Juneteenth is important to the African American community. It is our Independence Day. It is a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come and acknowledge the many challenges we still face. While we have shed the chains of the past, we continue to overcome the disparate treatment of the present. We continue to strive for true equity and freedom in the United States. We continue to invoke the spirit of our ancestors to lead and guide us forward until we achieve true liberation.
What we know for sure is that our freedom is not yet truly free.