In his book How the Word Is Passed, Clint Smith travels to Galveston Island, the origin of the Juneteenth holiday, to observe their annual celebration. He watches as a local man, dressed as Union General Gordon Granger, reads the proclamation from June 19, 1865, declaring the end of slavery. Smith writes,

"All slaves are free. The four words circled the room like birds that had been separated from their flock. I watched people's faces as Stephen said these words. Some closed their eyes. Some were physically shaking. Some clasped hands with the person next to them. Some simply smiled, soaking in the words that their ancestors may have heard more than a century and a half ago. Being in this place, standing on the same small island where the freedom of a quarter million people was proclaimed, I felt the history pulse through my body."

Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed more than two years before, and the Civil War had ended on April 9, 1865, many enslavers in Texas had withheld this news from the humans they had enslaved. Smith records a speech from the day's celebration given by Grant Mitchell, a local white resident who sponsors the event:

"Today is a day for jubilation. We celebrate this day as the day word reached Galveston and then spread through the region and into other Southern states that freedom had come to millions and a great injustice had been undone. We celebrate the day we got word our great nation, torn apart, but once again united, had taken one bold and decisive step toward fulfilling a promise at the core of its creed, that all people are created equal. But this is not just a celebration. The path toward justice is long and uncertain. It sometimes moves forward and sometimes winds its way back. So today is also a day of reflection. It is a day to look around and ask ourselves, 'Where are we on that path?'"

Juneteenth has been celebrated in Galveston since 1865, and it's been a state holiday in Texas since 1980. But it was only last year, on June 17, 2021, that this important day in American history was declared a national holiday. So as we both celebrate and reflect, Smith leaves us with this entreaty,

"[Juneteenth] is a reminder that each day this country must consciously make a decision to move forward toward freedom for all its citizens, and that this is something that must be done proactively; it will not happen on its own."

Learn More About Juneteenth

Juneteenth: Faith & Freedom – A documentary from @Our Daily Bread Voices Collection
In this 75 minute documentary, learn how Juneteenth inspires a faith stronger than suffering with Pastor Rasool Berry.

Juneteenth: The Growth of An African American Holiday – Article on Juneteenth history from local historian and professor Dr. Quintard Taylor.

Opportunities to Commemorate Juneteenth