Be­gin­ning a new June­teenth tra­di­tion

South Florida Times - - METRO - By MICHELLE HOLLINGER

I never heard of June­teenth un­til I was an adult. And not an 18 or 21-year old adult – I’m talk­ing at least my 30s when I first heard that there was a day des­ig­nated to cel­e­brate the end of slav­ery. It wasn’t taught in school and no­body in my fam­ily ever said a thing about it. I don’t think they knew either.

Like mil­lions of other blacks, I grew up cel­e­brat­ing the Fourth of July as though that hol­i­day was in­tended to cel­e­brate me. It’s not. Although I could never quite put my fin­ger on it, some­thing about gath­er­ing with fam­ily for a BBQ and fire­works on that day al­ways rang hol­low.

With the des­ig­na­tion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth­day as a na­tional hol­i­day, it seemed that we fi­nally had a na­tional day to honor, but for rea­sons I can only at­tribute to the hu­man ten­dency to re­main in com­fort zones, we con­tin­ued to place far more em­pha­sis on cel­e­brat­ing the Fourth of July than on MLK Day.

With June­teenth, it ap­pears that the dy­nam­ics that led to its in­cep­tion are also a fac­tor in how blacks cel­e­brate such a pro­foundly his­toric day. It’s a huge deal in Texas, where that state’s slaves were the last to be in­formed of their free­dom two years af­ter the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to June­teenth.com, June­teenth orig­i­nated as a cel­e­bra­tion of the end­ing of slav­ery in Texas. On June 19, 1865, Ma­jor Gen­eral Gor­don Granger and 1,800 troops of the Union Army ar­rived in Galve­ston, Texas, and an­nounced that the Civil War had ended, and all en­slaved per­sons were free. Even though Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln’s Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion had gone into ef­fect on Jan­uary 1, 1863…for var­i­ous rea­sons, the de­cree had not yet taken ef­fect in Texas.

Florida’s Eman­ci­pa­tion Day is May 20, 1865, mean­ing the Sun­shine State didn’t find out about its free­dom that much ear­lier than Texas.

Although not at the same cal­iber as cel­e­bra­tions in Texas, New York and other ar­eas, there is some recog­ni­tion of this his­toric date in South Florida. The Spady Mu­seum in Del­ray has cel­e­brated June­teenth since open­ing its doors and other groups make it their busi­ness to con­vene in honor of black peo­ple be­com­ing free in this coun­try.

I’m tardy to the June­teenth party, how­ever, it’s never too late to be­gin cel­e­brat­ing a day that con­trib­uted me be­ing who I am to­day. I'm cel­e­brat­ing this year and my June­teenth cel­e­bra­tion will be per­sonal. I will light a can­dle, med­i­tate and say a prayer of grat­i­tude for my ances­tors. I’m also pre­par­ing a spe­cial din­ner for my fam­ily and will be­gin a new tra­di­tion that in­cludes re­flec­tion, appreciation and plan­ning as we ex­plore what June­teenth means to us.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TYLER HAR­RIS

Michelle Hollinger

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