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Happy Juneteenth Day: African American 'holiday' may finally receive some national recognition.

African American `holiday' may finally receive some national recognition

So when is Independence Day? Well if you're African American and think it's on the 4th of July, not so fast.

It was reportedly on June 19, 1865, that Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the announcement that all slaves were to be freed, marking the actual end of slavery in this country. Unfortunately, this was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Myths abound about why it took so long for word to reach the Western settlements. But whatever the reason, when the last of the slaves finally got word they were free, it was obviously a day of celebration, one that went on to be recognized as Juneteenth Day.

But as the years passed and blacks began migrating to other areas of the country, many former slaves and their immediate descendants stopped celebrating. As a consequence, the national significance behind Juneteenth Day has gradually faded from view, says Lula Briggs Galloway, president and founder of the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage, a recently established organization that provides information relating to African American history.

"It's only been two generations since blacks began leaving the South, but our biggest obstacle in getting recognition for this holiday is educating our people," says Galloway.

While no longer widespread, the spirit of the day has survived in some sectors across the country. An estimated 130 cities and towns across the U.S. and Canada now hold annual celebrations to commemorate the day considered by some as African Americans' true independence day. Texas and Oklahoma are among the states that legally recognize it as a paid holiday.

"We are losing our history because we aren't passing it on. Jews keep the message of the Holocaust in the forefront so they don't forget and their children don't forget," says Galloway. "When it comes to our history, too many blacks believe we have arrived and should let it stay in the past."

"The political significance of Juneteenth is that black people were forced to live under the horrid conditions of slavery longer than necessary because someone failed to communicate the truth," says Rep. Barbara Collins (D-Mich.) who's working with Galloway to push June 19th to the forefront. That's why efforts to recognize Juneteenth as our national independence day are so important."

Collins believes the Congressional Black Caucus will lobby President Clinton to issue an executive order proclaiming the day as African Americans' independence day.

Contact the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage at 517-752-0576 or
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Author:White, Paula M.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jun 1, 1996
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