*Washington, DC – Members of the Project 21 black leadership network are marking the commemoration of “Juneteenth” — the oldest and most-recognized observance of the end of slavery in the United States — by asking the black community and Americans as a whole to look to the past for how to guide the future. Project 21 members implore people to recognize the passion for freedom and improvement shown by newly-freed slaves almost 150 years ago as they guard against possible threats to their liberty today.
“On this Juneteenth holiday, we acknowledge and commemorate the valiant efforts of the African-Americans who took the steps necessary to eradicate slavery and create a productive and civil society in its wake,” said Project 21 spokesman Demetrius Minor. “Their acts of strength and valor in a time of turmoil makes them ambassadors to the cause of freedom. In order to preserve their legacy and validate their accomplishments, we must continue to promote peace, equality and racial harmony.”
Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary of the June 19, 1865 arrival of Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas. The soldiers carried the news that the Civil War was over and that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had abolished slavery two-and-a-half years earlier.
The annual commemoration of the former slaves realizing their release from bondage became known as Juneteenth. The commemoration of the anniversary quickly became a stabilizing as well as motivating presence in the lives of black Americans in Texas, who faced many uncertainties associated with newly-acquired freedom. The observance spread from Texas to be recognized in communities across the United States.
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While Juneteenth is celebrated in many ways, education and self-improvement are consistent themes at commemorative community gatherings and picnics. In 1980, Juneteenth was made an official holiday in Texas. Currently, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, 40 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance of some sort.
“It has been 147 years since black slaves in Texas discovered the final shackles of official slavery in the United States were broken and they were free,” said Project 21 spokesman Kevin Martin. “Today, as full members of American society, we must never forget the sacrifices that those who have gone before us made for our current freedoms. And we must also remain forever vigilant against those who would peddle fear, ignorance and victimization for political and personal gain. Knowledge, self-dependence and achievement should never be denied again to anyone that adds to our nation’s greatness. That is why we will forever celebrate Juneteenth.”
Project 21 spokeswoman Lisa Fritsch, a native Texan, recounts her own Juneteenth commemoration memories with a warning to remember both the pageant and purpose of the holiday.
“When I think about Juneteenth, I think more about the past and the future than right now,” said Fritsch. “I remember my grandfather, who emphasized Juneteenth over all other summer holidays. I cannot forget the build-up to that day: a new jumper short for me for the park, buckets of lemons donated to make homemade lemonade and the seductive smell of the grill that called everyone to rejoice and reflect on the great gift of freedom and the price paid for it. I also remember, as the brisket was nearly done, that all of my grandfather’s stories about the emancipation of our people and the quest for freedom would begin.”
Fritsch added: “In reflecting on that past, I lament on how little I do today to instill this sense of festivity and pride in my own children about Juneteenth. Perhaps I am too distanced from the pain of the past that fueled the energy and passion in my grandfather’s stories that were surely passed down from my great-grandfather. Juneteenth is not the same without that conviction and reverence. With each generation, I believe it is harder and harder to understand the significance of this special day. It is our duty, however, to keep these old stories of struggle alive so that future generations will remember the value of freedom and recognize threats to it.”
Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for nearly two decades, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research (http://www.nationalcenter.org).