Coard Juneteenth

Juneteenth Committee, East Woods Park, Austin, Texas, June 19, 1900. —Smithsonian

In Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, formerly enslaved Blacks in that state finally received official confirmation of their (supposed) freedom- two-and-a-half years late. Despite that delay, those 250,000 folks celebrated enthusiastically, just like thousands of African-American men, women, and children in this city will celebrate on June 18, 2016, thanks to the Philadelphia Community of Leaders (PCOL) headed by Kenny Gamble and Rahim Islam.

Before explaining the upcoming Philly event, I must explain the historic genesis of Juneteenth 151 years ago. Juneteenth’s name is what’s known as a pormanteau, which is a linguistic blend of words that fuses sounds and meanings- i.e., the words June and nineteenth were combined by our forcibly and formally uneducated ancestors to create the new “Juneteenth” word.

Juneteenth is the oldest celebration commemorating the (purported) ending of slavery in America. And, it is officially observed in 43 states and District of Columbia. The first was Texas in 1980 and the most recent was Maryland last year.

Nearly two-and-a-half years before the Civil War ended on May 9, 1865 after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee a month earlier, President Abe Lincoln on September 22, 1862 announced that his Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect on January 1, 1863. As an aside, it must be noted that his proclamation wasn’t even worth the paper it was written on because it didn’t really end slavery or free any of the approximately four million enslaved Blacks. It included only the confederate states that were in rebellion and excluded enslaved populations in northern states as well as specifically in Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee, “west/southeast” Virginia, and lower Louisiana,

By the way, the 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, didn’t really end slavery either. Instead, it created the past and present racist prison industrial complex by allowing a new type of slavery as set forth in section one of that amendment, which states: “Punishment for crime ... (after having been) duly convicted ... shall exist within the United States ...”

But I digress. Let’s get back to Juneteenth. It was born on June 19, 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with 1,800 troops. From the Ashton Villa balcony, he announced General Order Number Three, which declared that “The people of Texas are informed that ... all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights ... between former masters and slaves ...” That’s cool and everything, at least as far as it goes. But why did it take so long for our ancestors in Texas to be notified after the 1862/1863 proclamation? Here’s the answer: Since the capture of New Orleans by the Union Army in 1862, many worried slaveholders in Mississippi, Louisiana, and other states to the east packed up 150,000 of their human cargo and sought racist sanctuary in relatively faraway and lawless Texas in the southwest where it was believed they could escape the Union Army’s reach.

Since 1865, our ancestors have celebrated Juneteenth. Although these cultural celebrations all across the nation are important, cultural empowerment is even more important. And there’s nothing more important for our people than land. That’s why we must follow the lead of our ancestors and elders who purchased land in Texas for year-round Juneteenth-related activities. That land includes Emancipation Park in Houston in 1872, Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia in 1898, another Emancipation Park in East Austin in 1909, and Stringfellow Orchards in Hitchcock in 2005.

PCOL is a strong advocate of such empowerment. And PCOL is dedicated to resolving the systemic economic problems, poverty, and miseducation destroying the Black community in and around this city. It continues to update its consensus agenda, which is a work-in-progress that cannot be completed without your essential input. In other words, PCOL is you, me, and everyone else who wants to reverse the plight of our folks in and around Philly. Make your voice heard. Make your organization’s voice heard. Join PCOL now.

Also, join PCOL at its “Inaugural Juneteenth Parade and Festival” on Saturday, June 18 beginning at 11 a.m. at Congo/Washington Square at Seventh and Locust and march with PCOL to the Slavery Memorial/President’s House at Sixth and Market for a powerful cultural presentation at 12:30 p.m. followed by and ending with a culturally enlightening showcase at the African-American Museum at Seventh and Arch at 2:30 p.m. Throughout the day’s event, there will be celebrity guest speakers, dynamic marching bands, precision drill teams, rhythmic African drummers and dancers, cultural stilt-walkers, New Orleans Second Line performers, skillful musicians, delicious food, and eclectic vendors.

For more info, contact PCOL at philadelphiacommunityofleaders.org or at (215) 732-6518. So far, Milwaukee, WI and Minneapolis, MN have the largest Juneteenth celebrations. Let’s see if Philly can become number one on June 18.

The words from David Walker’s Appeal, written in 1829, and the words of Christopher James Perry Sr., founder of the Tribune in 1884, are the inspiration for my “Freedom’s Journal” columns. In order to honor that pivotal nationalist abolitionist and that pioneering newspaper giant, as well as to inspire today’s Tribune readers, each column ends with Walker and Perry’s combined quote- along with my inserted voice- as follows: I ask all Blacks “to procure a copy of this… (weekly column) for it is designed … particularly for them” so they can “make progress … against (racist) injustice.”

Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD900AM. And his “TV Courtroom” show can be seen on PhillyCam/Verizon/Comcast.

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