By Richard “RJ” Johnson
On May 13, 2021 Governor Jay Inslee signed into law a bill that makes Juneteenth a legal holiday in the State of Washington effective in the year 2022. There are some important things to know about Juneteenth when talking about what it is, what it is not, and why I feel it is an important historical date.
Juneteenth 19, 1865 did not mark the end of slavery in the United States as some mistakenly believe. It indeed marks the date that word of the executive order known as the “Emancipation Proclamation”, which had been issued by President Lincoln two and a half years earlier, finally reached the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. Lincoln’s executive order only ended slavery in the confederate states that were at war with the United States. That meant that slavery was still legal in the states of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland. Slavery was not outlawed until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.
Some have questioned the significance of Juneteenth since it only directly pertained to the enslaved in Galveston, Texas and the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation did not completely end slavery in the United States. So, why is Juneteenth significant?
In my opinion, what Juneteenth is, among many other things, is a tangible manifestation of the human spirit of our ancestors that even the inhumanity and brutality of chattel slavery could not extinguish. The jubilation and instant celebration that broke out on that day on June 19, 1865 once those words of freedom were heard and understood was an outcry of triumph over evil. The cries and wailing were loud enough to reach the heavens and touch the souls of the ancestors and of those who perished in the middle passage. “Lift every voice and sing…” James Weldon Johnson.
Going forward Juneteenth is not just a touchstone in history. Juneteenth through its annual observance and many festivals and celebrations provides a launching pad for education, solidarity, and cultural awareness for our succeeding generations and those uninformed that are among us. Juneteenth is our holiday created by our ancestors and it will launch us into the future without losing sight of the past.