History is our past. We cannot change the past, but we must strive to learn from it. Holidays like Juneteenth should be recognized by all Americans. But Juneteenth didn’t become a nationally recognized holiday until June 2021—yes, only last year. This historic achievement came about because of bipartisan, bicameral efforts in Congress. 

During the American Civil War, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order known historically as the Emancipation Proclamation. Though the order fell short of full emancipation for enslaved African Americans, it represented the beginning of the end of American slavery. The order freed all persons held as slaves in the Confederate-controlled states, including Texas. At the time, these states did not even recognize Lincoln as the duly elected president. The Emancipation Proclamation was perceived among Texans as little more than a political stunt aimed to attract African Americans to enlist in the newly integrated Union Army. 

The Civil War continued to cost American lives well past the Emancipation Proclamation. Though Congress courageously passed the Thirteenth Amendment in January 1865, the war persisted and African Americans remained enslaved. Furthermore, it would still take almost an entire calendar year for the Thirteenth Amendment to be ratified by Congress in December 1865. Even while negotiations were occurring between Union and Confederate delegations aboard the famed SS River Queen, the Confederacy was still trying to keep African Americans enslaved. Lincoln was assassinated just days after Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865, leaving Americans in doubt about whether the Union would survive. Many had no idea their lives had been changed long before evil struck our nation to its core. 

Back in Texas, African Americans were still enslaved. This was due to myriad factors, including the illiteracy rates among African Americans, plantation prohibitions of communication regarding Civil War updates, and the lack of access to information. Therefore, one could only imagine the joy and relief felt among African Americans when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865. After centuries of enslavement, emancipation immediately became a reality for African Americans, once those who called Texas home received news that they were finally free. African American communities have been celebrating that day ever since.

Unfortunately, no constitutional amendment or military order has been able to eradicate racial hatred and discrimination from the earth. Courageous Americans marched in Selma, rode in buses across the south, led boycotts and sit-ins, and ultimately gave their lives to ensure a far more equal society than they had ever known. Juneteenth was not a national holiday until 2021. Clearly, we have a long way to go. But as long as we remain resolved to create a more perfect union for ourselves and our posterity, we will bring to fruition an America that truly offers liberty and justice for all.  

Amarillo proudly celebrates Juneteenth National Independence Day and will be doing so again this summer with a variety of events. These include a Pageant (June 11), Health Expo (June 13), Young Professionals Expo (June 16), Talent Show, Wonderland Park: Kids Fun in the Sun (June 17), Park and Parade (June 18) and Community Church Service (June 19). 

For further information, contact Melodie Graves at (806) 640-8184 or Julian Reese at (812) 841-3295. 

Author

  • Patrick Miller is President of the Amarillo Branch NAACP and assistant principal at Eastridge Elementary. In 2021, he completed a 6-year term on the Amarillo College Board of Regents, to which he was elected at the age of 25. He has earned Master’s degrees in both teaching and educational leadership from WTAMU and has served in a variety of leadership roles within the Amarillo Independent School District.