The Dundalk Eagle

His­tor­i­cal Le­gacy of June­teenth


County Ex­ec­u­tive Johnny Ol­szewski is­sued a procla­ma­tion hon­or­ing June 19, 2020 as “June­teenth Com­mem­o­ra­tion Day” in Baltimore County last Fri­day.

“I have pro­claimed to­day, June 19, 2020, as June­teenth Com­mem­o­ra­tion Day in Baltimore County. June­teenth cel­e­brates not only the end of the cru­elty of bondage; but the re­solve of the hu­man spirit over gen­er­a­tions of ad­ver­sity,” Ol­szewski said on Face­book.

“In Baltimore County and across the coun­try, Amer­i­cans must hon­estly con­front the le­gacy of racial in­jus­tice ex­pe­ri­enced by com­mu­ni­ties of color and how the men­ace of sys­temic racism has shaped our cur­rent re­al­i­ties.

To­day, we must we re­flect on and honor the progress we have made, ac­knowl­edge how far we still have to go, and re­new our com­mit­ment to build­ing a shared com­mu­nity vi­sion for ad­vanc­ing jus­tice, di­ver­sity, eq­uity, and in­clu­sion for all peo­ple in Baltimore County and be­yond.”

On “Free­dom’s Eve,” or the eve of Jan­uary 1, 1863, the first Watch Night ser­vices took place. On that night, en­slaved and free African Amer­i­cans gath­ered in churches and pri­vate homes all across the coun­try await­ing news that the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion had taken ef­fect.

At the stroke of mid­night, prayers were an­swered as all en­slaved peo­ple in Con­fed­er­ate States were de­clared legally free. Union sol­diers, many of whom were black, marched onto plan­ta­tions and across cities in the south read­ing small copies of the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion spread­ing the news of free­dom in Con­fed­er­ate States. Only through the Thir­teenth Amend­ment did eman­ci­pa­tion end slav­ery through­out the United States.

But not ev­ery­one in Con­fed­er­ate ter­ri­tory would im­me­di­ately be free. Even though the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion was made ef­fec­tive in 1863, it could not be im­ple­mented in places still un­der Con­fed­er­ate con­trol. As a re­sult, in the west­ern­most Con­fed­er­ate state of Texas, en­slaved peo­ple would not be free un­til much later. de­cree. This day came to be known as “June­teenth,” by the newly freed peo­ple in Texas.

The post-eman­ci­pa­tion pe­riod known as Re­con­struc­tion (1865-1877) marked an era of great hope, un­cer­tainty, and strug­gle for the na­tion as a whole. For­merly en­slaved peo­ple im­me­di­ately sought to re­unify fam­i­lies, es­tab­lish schools, run for po­lit­i­cal of­fice, push rad­i­cal leg­is­la­tion and even sue slave­hold­ers for com­pen­sa­tion.

Given the 200 plus years of en­slave­ment, such changes were noth­ing short of amaz­ing. Not even a gen­er­a­tion out of slav­ery, African Amer­i­cans were in­spired and em­pow­ered to trans­form their lives and their coun­try.

June­teenth marks our coun­try’s sec­ond in­de­pen­dence day. Al­though it has long cel­e­brated in the African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, this mon­u­men­tal event re­mains largely un­known to most Amer­i­cans.

The his­tor­i­cal le­gacy of June­teenth shows the value of never giv­ing up hope in un­cer­tain times. The Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture is a com­mu­nity space where this spirit of hope lives on. A place where his­tor­i­cal events like June­teenth are shared and new sto­ries with equal ur­gency are told.

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