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Let’s Celebrate Juneteenth

Written by: Dr. Michelle Chappell

What is Juneteenth?

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that stated that all enslaved people in the Confederate states would be set free. The Emancipation Proclamation stated slaves were no longer property and should be paid as hired labor.

Unfortunately, it took more than two years for all slaves to be set free. The news spread slowly in some parts of the South as plantation owners wanted to keep the slaves to tend their properties and until after harvest season. Ultimately, it took the presence of Union soldiers to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas.

On June 19, 1865, the enslaved people of Galveston were told that slavery had been abolished and they were truly free. This historical event has become a holiday known in the African American culture known as “Emancipation Day”, “Juneteenth Independence Day” or “Juneteenth” with community-based celebrations occurring.

Currently, this holiday is referred to as “Juneteenth” combining the month and the day of this important event, “June” and Nineteenth”. Many states including Texas recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday. In the past, Juneteenth had been designated as a holiday among African Americans communities across the country, but not an official holiday like Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. Recently, Juneteenth has been designated a national holiday and this date will continue to embody the pursuit to create a more fair and just society for Black America in the US.

Why is this important?

This year marks the 156th anniversary of the events in Galveston, Texas. Historically, Juneteenth has been a day of reflection consisting of celebrations prayer, feasting, and dance. Contemporary celebrations include many of these same elements with family gatherings, parades, and festivals occurring across the US and the world.

At many of these events, you will hear this song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, also known as the “Black National Anthem”. This song encapsulates the hopes, aspirations, and realities faced in the post-antebellum United States. James Johnson originally created this as a poem to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but his brother composed the music which turned the poem into a song.

The lyrics have been provided below:

By James Weldon Johnson

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won
Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast
God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land
Our native land

The celebration and recognition of Juneteenth is more important than ever. Juneteenth represents the struggle of how freedom and justice for African Americans is still a delayed dream. Words such as social justice, equality, and equity permeate in our daily lives as we strive to create a more perfect union. While barriers continue to impede our progress, I am heartened by the work of organizations trying to advance America’s aspiration values. African Americans will continue to celebrate their cultures and recognize all the accomplishments that have been achieved throughout history. I encourage you to learn more about Juneteenth, other cultures, holidays, and find ways to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Now, let’s celebrate Juneteenth.

Dr. Michelle Chappell Bio

Dr. Chappell currently serves Henderson Community College as the Coordinator of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. She maintains the responsibility for developing and implementing program services and the college’s diversity plan. She promotes diversity in recruitment of faculty, staff, and students, as well working with the EEO Officer. Dr. Chappell provides oversight of the Initiative: Achieve Mentor (I:AM) Peer-Mentoring Program and the Multicultural Alliance Student Organization.

Also, she is an Associate Professor in the Computer and Information Technologies program, which is housed in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math department. In addition to her other roles at the college, she is the Program Coordinator for the Computer and Information Technologies program.

Dr. Chappell obtained her Doctor of Education in Adult and Higher Education Leadership from Morehead State University.