Today is Junetheenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the US, and yet, many white Americans are completely oblivious to its significance. Such a small thing (lack of knowledge) indicates a continuing large racial divide in our country. Certainly Black Lives Matter protests are continuing for a reason, and part of that reason is to educate white America to a part of its history completely ignored.
June 19, 1865 marks the day when Union Army General Gordon Granger delivered the news in Galveston, TX, that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were free. This was 2 1/2 yrs. after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on June 1, 1863. Granger’s formal announcement read:
In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the U.S. (refers to Lincoln though he had already been assassinated), all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.
While the controversial 13th Amendment abolishing slavery had already been ratified, it did not end slavery. And while this Juneteenth announcement was made freeing all slaves, it is more accurate to say that it was the day the slaves were told they were free—not the day they were freed. That would take many more painful decades of discrimination and persecution. When slave owners first heard this announcement, most did not tell their slaves until after the harvest was finished. And for the slaves who tried to act on their newly announced liberation, many were caught and hanged by their white owners.
James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was an African-American (bi-racial) of significant stature in American history. He was a lawyer, novelist, poet, and songwriter. He was to literature what W.E.B. Du Bois was to education and intellectual pursuits, and Booker T. Washington was to science and technology. Johnson was the first African-American consul to Venezuela and then to Nicaragua. He was also the first African-American president of the NAACP. He wrote a very interesting book in 1912 called “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.” He also wrote a poem in 1900 that was set to music by his younger brother, John, in 1905, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has come to be referred to as The Black National Anthem. Someone has said that this anthem about the abolition of slavery could be describing the freedom of the Black body, as well as of the White Soul. Here are the lyrics:
Lift ev’ry voice and sing
‘Til earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on ’til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land.
If you want to listen to it sung (beautifully, I might add) use this link: