On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read "General Order No. 3" to enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Those words sparked jubilation and triggered "a moment of indescribable joy" from the group of more than 250,000 enslaved Black people whose lives would be forever changed as a result.
All slaves are free.
Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it would take over two years for the news to reach the last bastions of the Confederacy like Texas. And despite the fact that Gen. Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army, surrendered 10 weeks earlier, there was a delay in relaying this life-altering message to the enslaved Black people of the Deep South.
"Although we celebrate the day that commemorates Black liberation, we simultaneously continue to wait for it. America must cash the check she wrote long ago."
June 19th, or Juneteenth as it is known today, is celebrated as the day news of emancipation finally reached the last group of the enslaved. And while it represents an exhilarating moment of abject joy and hope, it's a simultaneous reminder of the incessant delay in this country's duty to keep its promise to the very people who built it with their blood, sweat and tears. And while we celebrate the joy our ancestors must have felt when hearing those words, we must also ask ourselves just how long do Black Americans have to wait to truly be free in this country?
As we are poised to celebrate this holiday — that a number of brands such as Nike and Target, and multiple states like New York and Virginia have recently embraced — we ironically find ourselves at the precipice of a racial reckoning. Across the country — and around the world — many have demanded an end to the delay in bestowing equal rights and equal justice to Black people. And although we celebrate the day that commemorates Black liberation, we simultaneously continue to wait for it. America must cash the check she wrote long ago.
Juneteenth may mark the announcement of our emancipation, but we're still waiting on the actualization of it. Even after the decree in 1865, many Black Americans were re-enslaved once Union troops returned to the North. Despite the passing of the 13th Amendment, slavery took on new forms like sharecropping or imprisonment. And centuries later, we're still waiting for Black people to have the ability to go for a run, or sleep in their homes, or buy a bag of Skittles, or play with toy guns — or live, freely.
Black freedom in America has inextricably been tied to the perpetual request to wait. But this Juneteenth, we've made it clear that we're not going to wait anymore. To truly be Black and free in this country, we must make it crystal clear that we're no longer going to sit patiently and wait for a decree to be read — we're going to write our own.