Today is Juneteenth, the anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in Texas. The day has long been one of celebration in the African American community. Yesterday, the National Archives announced they have found the original order, delivered by a Major F.W. Emery on behalf of Major General Gordon Granger.  It reads, 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 between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

For a people who had lived in bondage in this country for 250 years, the order must have been almost surreal. It led to wide celebrations across Texas at the time and became a tangible date for African Americans to remember as slavery ended in a piecemeal fashion across the South. Today, it’s widely seen as the symbolic date of their emancipation. 

Given the events of the past few weeks, it should be recognized as a national holiday. Ending slavery was truly a step toward achieving the ideals set forth in our founding document. The preamble of the Constitution reads,  “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Most African Americans were denied any semblance of these basic rights until they were freed following the Civil War. As a country, we should recognize that in freeing the slaves we moved forward in promoting principles equality, liberty, and justice. That it’s taken another 150 years to fully recognize the significance of the date shows how much further we had to go then and how much work we need to do now. 

We are currently in the midst of a great reckoning, coming to terms with the short-comings of our country. We have failed to provide basic rights to too many of our citizens for too long and we told a false narrative to both deny and obscure our sins. We now need to rewrite our history to tell a more complete and truthful story “in Order to form a more perfect Union.” As a country and society, we are still a work in progress and always will be. 

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