One-hundred and forty six years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, many blacks still feel the sting of discrimination and the ignorance of many whites about black culture that began with the enslavement of their ancestors. Juneteenth celebrations are one way to reflect on past wrongs and to appreciate recent progress.
The origins of Juneteenth are in Galveston, Texas, where Union Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops landed on June 19, 1865, a full two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Until then, Texas had remained under the control of the Confederate Army.
Granger’s announcement that the slaves were emancipated came more than two years after Lincoln’s edict took effect. Freed slaves rejoiced in the streets on hearing the news. Galveston held a more formal celebration the next year. Today, the District and 29 states, including Virginia, recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday.
In a service at Lincoln Park United Methodist Church on North Carolina Avenue, Northeast, not just Juneteenth but also the Maafa, or African Holocaust, were remembered Friday.
Over hundreds of years, about 11 million Africans died in the “middle passage” between Africa and North America - about half of all Africans who were forced into the trans-Atlantic voyage on slave ships. It is estimated that more than 8,000 blacks were murdered through lynching and other racial violence in the United States.
At the Lincoln Park church, there was contemplation of these horrors, but also pleas for forgiveness and mutual appreciation between blacks and whites.
“Reconciliation goes much further than what happened on the middle passage,” said Jack Gaines, a pastor from Portsmith, Va. “We need communities where we are our brother’s keeper and not our brother’s killer.”
Even whites are becoming involved in the occasion, with some apologizing for the actions of prior generations.
“I apologize for what my ancestors did to your ancestors,” said Mark Siljander, a former congressman from Michigan.
Mr. Siljander’s sentiments recalled the historic action of the U.S. Senate, which in June 2005 officially apologized for its failure to enact anti-lynching legislation decades ago.
Juneteenth also provided an opportunity for those at the service to recognize how far blacks have come since slavery, Jim Crow and segregation. While inequalities persist, entire generations and those to come will never know what it was like to be forced sit at the back of the bus or suffer the indignity of drinking out of the blacks-only water fountain.
“I can still remember when I played professional baseball and restaurants made me sit in the back to eat my dinner,” said Mr. Gaines. “While speaking to Congress yesterday [at a Juneteenth panel discussion], I saw all the little black and white children sitting together and I had to hold back my tears.”
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