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Juneteenth

June 19, 2022

Freedom Day

Today, June 19 marks the 157th anniversary of Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. It commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and brought news that slavery had been abolished more than two years earlier.

I came across this story from 2015 on NPR, an interview recorded in 1941 with Laura Smalley who was born into slavery. Most slave owners kept the news from the slaves. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19 with 2000 troops and a message – slaves were free. 

Finally, after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, the news reached the slaves in Texas. I can’t imagine being a child and being born into slavery let alone not being told that in fact, my freedom had been granted. I wondered how much respect Laura had for the slave owner after learning the news. Access Laura’s recording at THIS LINK.

Laura’s story and others are archived at the Library of Congress. There is a collection of stories in a section called Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories. The documented stories took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine states. We can learn from the plethora of information included in the stories. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 amid discussions of racial injustice following the death of George Floyd.

I can’t help but think about Ashley Bryan on this day. His contribution as a black artist, storyteller, poet and all around amazing human being is immeasurable. Many of you know that Ashley passed away in February of this year. He left a large body of artwork but my favorite and most cherished pieces of what he left are his children’s books. Even though they are children books each one has a message for all ages. If you read no others I recommend you get yourself a copy of Freedom over me. It includes the stories of 11 slaves, their lives and dreams were brought to life by Ashley. Mr. Bryan bought the slave papers at an auction in Southwest Harbor, ME and used them as a launch pad for the book. In this book he combined the simple descriptions and the price the slaves were sold for with his imagination and creativity and created a tribute to all slaves.

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