Tradition has always been a part of my life. From my upbringing throughout my military career, it is something I value deeply, which is why commemorating Juneteenth is so important to me. Many people think that all slavery ended when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. But some slaves, like the ones in Texas, weren't freed for another two-and-a-half years on June 19, 1865. That day is now known as Juneteenth, and this year marks its 150th anniversary.
It’s an important day for all of us to remember. Throughout Texas, there are landmarks that help us to recognize Juneteenth’s significance. One memorable marker is in Galveston where the last slaves were freed in the South.
Unlike today with information spreading rapidly around the globe, word of the slaves’ freedom came slowly in the 19th Century. It came by word of mouth. In Missouri City and Palmer Plantation, slaves gathered under the branches of a gigantic live oak where they were told they were no longer slaves. That live oak, which still stands today, is known as the Freedom Tree.
In recent years, Juneteenth observances have been held throughout the nation. It’s now an official holiday recognized in 43 states and the District of Columbia.
Having retired from the U.S. Army, I will never forget when I was stationed at Fort Rucker, Al in 1980; several of us from Texas were celebrating Juneteenth. Others noticed us and asked what we were doing. We told them we were paying tribute to those who sacrificed and paved the way for us. It wasn’t long before they too began commemorating Juneteenth alongside us.
Today, from Austin to Dallas, from San Antonio to Fort Worth, Juneteenth is celebrated with parties and various cultural events. In my hometown of Marlin (southeast of Waco), we try to have a family gathering centered on that day. Growing up in Texas, my family would gather on this day and my grandfather made sure we knew why we gathered. It was a time of joy and a time of reflection.
While parties are good, I believe Juneteenth gives us all an opportunity to recognize the reason for the Emancipation Proclamation. We need to recognize the meaning of the day and the sacrifice that our ancestors made for us. It’s also a good time to reflect and understand that we should not take the freedom that we enjoy in this country for granted, not only as African Americans but as Americans
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