Juneteenth is opportunity for healing

New Jersey Juneteenth
Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D.

Juneteenth Slaves

Our Weekly

By Cynthia E. Griffin
June 16, 2011


More than just an observation

As June 19 comes closer and conversations about celebrating the day that the last Africans in America received word of their emancipation from chattel slavery drew nearer, there are those folks who might wonder or even verbalize a familiar sentiment—“slavery was way back then; it has nothing to do with me today. Why should I go to such a celebration. It’s just old timey stuff.”

According to noted psychologist Wade W. Nobles, Ph.D., there are very good reasons to go to a Juneteenth celebration.

"All of those (events) are a celebration and recognition of who we are, what we have gone through and what we have achieved," explained Nobles, a recently retired professor emeritus of Black studies at San Francisco State University.

Such celebrations also have healing potential, added the psychologist.

"The fact of the matter is—and the United Nations made this point—slavery was clearly a crime against humanity. It was unbelievably harmful . . . and we have never addressed it as a human community. There are deep scars and damage caused by that historical period, and the legacy of that resides in all of us; not just Blacks. It resides in Whites as well.

"Psychologically, we have never addressed it any clinical way," added Nobles, who also operates the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family, Life and Culture.

Nobles said Juneteenth is a residual of the trauma that is calling for and directing people to the need for healing, even though it’s in the framework of a celebration. The psychologist pointed out that when the damage and disease is not addressed, it continues to fester and that is what is happening today among people of African descent.

It is manifested in our actions, which Nobles said, reflect a “fractured consciousness and damaged identity."

"If you look at it historically, we have been trying to be everything as people, and that is symptomatic of a fractured consciousness and shattered identity,” continued the psychologist. “Now we have to look at how to mend that problem."

Celebrating Juneteenth can definitely be part of the process, because it represents the opportunity to explain the history, but at the same time focus on what African descendants have accomplished by offering examples of our genius.

Nobles said these celebrations can also begin to shed light on the unique African way of solving problems that slavery unsuccessfully tried to demonize and destroy.

Rev. Dr. Ronald V. Myers Sr., founder and chairman of the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign, also sees the Juneteenth celebration as a measure of healing. He considers it America’s second independence day and has diligently worked to gain national recognition for the observance.

Currently, 39 states have recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance day. It also a legal holiday in Texas (1980) and Wisconsin (2010).

Additionally, Congress has recognized Juneteeenth six times since 1997.

The goal now, said Myers, is to get the day placed on the national calendar as a day of observance like Flag Day or Patriot Day (which commemorates the 911 tragedy.)

"The Fourth of July and the 19th of June complete the American celebration of freedom," said Meyers.

According to the website Juneteenth.com, Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. It was on June 19 in 1865 that Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and enslaved slaves were free. This was nearly two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Upon his arrival, Granger read General Order No. 3 to Galveston residents.

Freed slaves and their families in Texas began celebrating June 19, which they eventually called Juneteenth in 1866, with picnics, prayer, entertainment, speeches and food, particularly strawberry soda. As Texans migrated to other states, they took this observation with them.

Interest in marking the day has ebbed and flowed, but since the Long Horn State became the first to declare Juneteenth a legal holiday in 1980, recognition of the celebration and its significance has continued to grow.

To find out about events around the nation, go to www.juneteenth.com or www.juneteenth.us. For information on some local celebrations, see the Juneteenth calendar on this page.

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