Today's Update: Friday, June 19

June 19, 2020

Dear Student Life Team, 

I wanted to send you my update early today to allow time for thought and reflection. Today is June 19, historically known as Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery. 

First, a history lesson.  

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863. It ordered that all enslaved people in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” But it didn’t really work out that way. Slavery continued in the South until even after the end of the Civil War.  

On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, ending the war, but not southern slavery. It took until June 19, 1865, when U.S. Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free” that the institution of slavery was finally abolished.  

It meant freedom for African Americans. But hate, injustice and inequality was still pervasive. The struggle continues to this day. It makes Juneteenth, in 2020, not a just a commemoration of events more than 150 years ago, but it is a call to action for the future.  

This is not an abstract concept. I grew up Black in the south in a low-income, free/reduced lunch environment with no path for success in my immediate future. Black history was not taught within the four walls of my classrooms. I leaned on my family to help shape the values of my identity. I learned my own lessons, that to be proud of my identity as a Black woman was a journey; never quite sure if I was “too black” for some and not black enough for others. The struggle was real. It still is. 

Today, it is more important than ever to celebrate Juneteenth as an acknowledgment of where we are, and where we should go. The celebration of our freedom from slavery was monumental but just the beginning. It is evident there are still hearts that need to be changed; that ideas and views about the value of individual lives are seemingly still uncertain to some. Being freed from the bondage of historical slavery signaled change was coming. Yet, we still recognize that the struggle continues. It looks different. It feels different. But it is real.  

I am haunted by the two-and-a-half-year gap between the Emancipation Proclamation and when its impact actually took effect. That is a long time for the suffering and injustice to have continued. And sometimes I feel like progress is still long-coming, but no matter how slow, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” We have seen some hope of that arc from the U.S. Supreme Court this week, with decisions affirming the rights of DACA immigrants and LGBT workers.  

Today, let us reflect on the significance and challenge of Juneteenth. How can we ensure that, in the next 100 years, little Black children will no longer be told, no, you’re not good enough or wealthy enough? How can we create a society that acknowledges that they are enough? Then, and only then, can we fully realize and celebrate freedom from bondage.  

I invite you to take part in any of these online events today. 

It’s yet another way we can help make our communities Scarlet and Great. Oh, and I’ll get back to High Five Fridays next week! 

Melissa