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African Americans celebrate freedom today, ‘Juneteenth’

This is a short history lesson about freedom. No test will be given at the end of your reading, nor will you have to purchase a textbook. The expanding of your mind is up to you.

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed. It states: “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

July 4 is the day that the majority of Americans celebrate as their freedom day. And, with the current easing of COVID-19 restrictions, people all over this country want to get out and celebrate “being free” in the year 2021. But please note: Not everyone in this country was considered “free” as of July 4, 1776 – specifically African Americans, who were enslaved during that time in our country, and for hundreds of years, with visible and invisible chains.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan.1, 1863. This proclamation acknowledged, “That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

The Emancipation Proclamation was declared on Jan. 1 of that year, but not every slave was allowed their freedom on this date. On June 19, 1865, two years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the last remaining slaves in Texas were declared free by the arrival of federal troops in Galveston.

This is the date chosen by many African American communities and individual families as their date of freedom. It is a day we unite and celebrate. We celebrate those who came before us and the sacrifices they made for all of us to be here today. And we celebrate those in our community who continue to sacrifice, support and sustain our history and culture in these United States.

Many people are unfamiliar with what “Juneteenth” means or the history behind this date. A large number of people are unfamiliar with the stories that many communities of color embrace related to their day of freedom in this country.

I write this not to renounce the Fourth of July, but to educate and enlighten everyone about the diversity of freedoms that are recognized in various communities of color, and in different manners, in these United States of America. Please take five minutes, hours, days or weeks to learn the history of the communities of color in our Four Corners. Fully realize their true histories and when freedom is recognized by each group

Unfortunately, most of the history we learned in school is not the complete story, or the story is only known through one perspective, usually that of the winner. The more information we know and honor about each other’s true histories, the more united we may become.

Katherine R. Smith is an adjunct instructor of sociology and faculty adviser to the Black Student Union at Fort Lewis College.

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