Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. It was on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863.
This event was celebrated enthusiastically by blacks and whites in the South. Cultural forces and economic scarcity caused a decline in Juneteenth celebrations beginning in the early 20th century. The Depression forced many blacks off farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, employers were less eager to grant leaves to celebrate this date.
Through research, reenactments, and curriculum in the 1980's and 1990's, Juneteenth continues to enjoy a reawakening. So many black Americans et al have had an interest and obligation to see that the events of 1865 in Galveston, Texas, are not forgotten.
Which bring us to this question: Are the achievements, celebrations, and contributions of blacks in America history dismissed and not fully acknowledged and espoused by the general community? If so, why?
Events that highlight the historic black exertion during 19th-century Freedom Movement have rarely generated enough interest or resources from larger community. The paucity of interest in the larger community when reenacting these events is sad.
One explanation many share is that black contributions to the 19th-century Freedom Movement are not viewed as American history; they're viewed by many as black history.
The chronicle of slavery in America is abbreviated, which contributes to that view. The ink on the pages tends to caricature blacks helplessly in slavery. The detailed contribution of how blacks et al worked and fought to overcome slavery is obscured in American culture and school systems.
The Rochester-Monroe County Freedom Trail Commission's presentation of "On Behalf of Those Who Lie in Yonder Hallowed Grounds," which highlights the contribution of over 200,000 colored Union soldiers who fought and helped turn the tide in the Civil War, is one of those important historic events presented yearly. There has been warm support over the past 10 years in Rochester to make this event an institution here in our city.
The irony of this historic event: The recruiter of these courageous men was Frederick Douglass, who developed the message "Men of Color to Arms" right here in Rochester.
In the words of an American scholar: "Truth must be dug up from the past and presented to the circle of scholastics in scientific form, then through stories and dramatizations that will permeate our educational systems." – Dr. Carter G. Woodson, American historian and educator.
Hanif Abdul-Wahid is a member of the Freedom Way Business Association, which again this year is sponsoring Rochester's Juneteenth celebration in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood.