When you think of summer, what words come to mind? Probably heat, family vacation, and freedom. For many freedom means no school, a chance to travel, and a chance to spend time as a family. It means relaxing from the everyday routines and schedules. For my family, it means gathering and making music together for three days with many friends both old and new.
For some, freedom means a chance to celebrate the joys of living in a land that is learning to understand how history impacts our modern culture. In a land that is beginning to learn that its past is not separate from its present or future. This land (the United States) proudly celebrates freedom and that
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (1)
Yet, it has not been until recently that we have realized how important the little word "all" is in that sentence. It does not mean just white males of European descent are the only ones to be free, it means that all of humanity should and needs to be free. In the time when Thomas Jefferson penned those words not all men were free, in order to vote you had to be male, at least 21 years old, protestant, a land holder, and white.
There are two national holidays that are celebrated during the summer that are built on freedom. You probably well know one of these holidays already, it is the Fourth of July!
This year we gained a new national holiday, Juneteenth! Well actually it has always been a holiday - since June 19, 1866. How many of you have known about this day before it became a national holiday? My guess is probably not many. I only remember learning about it last year.
What do Juneteenth and Independence Day (the Fourth of July) have in common? They both are surrounding the ideas of freedom. Independence Day celebrates the day that the Declaration of Independence was signed, while Juneteenth celebrates the day that slaves in Galveston, Texas received the word that they were freed (on June 19, 1865).
While Juneteenth may be a new holiday to some, it holds similar if not greater weight than the Fourth of July.
It is so important that we realize that the way our society works (specifically in the US) depends on us looking out and caring for those whose voices are less often heard or taken seriously. Speaking up for those who have never had an opportunity to speak for themselves (for example, the indigenous children that have been found buried at residential schools - but that's an article for another time). This is where the words at the end of the Declaration of Independence were not just for the founders, but for us as well:
". . . with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." (1)
P. S. Created Equal is a program from Colonial Williamsburg about the historical perspectives of black Americans. I have previously mentioned it in a post entitled: "Ain't I a Woman?"
Encyclopedia Britannica ~ Juneteenth
Galveston Historical Foundation ~ Juneteenth and General Order No. 3
History Channel ~ What is Juneteenth?
Wikipedia ~ Juneteenth
Other Programs from Colonial Williamsburg: