– Rozella Haydée White
I am from Houston, Texas and I grew up celebrating Juneteenth. When I left Houston in 2007, l lived in three different cities over the course of 10 years. Imagine my surprise when most people in these places (Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago) had never heard of Juneteenth. I was astonished! How could such an important part of American history be known by so few people?
On January 1, 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, abolishing slavery after 400 years. This changed federal legal status of more than 3.5 million slaves. Many, including myself, wonder about the intent and signing of the Proclamation. It happened during the American Civil War and the north needed more people to fight against the south. Releasing slaves was seen as a political move to increase people power for the war rather than a moral move to grant human beings their freedom.
However, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t reach the people in Texas until June 19, 1865. As Texas was not a battleground state in the Civil War, the initial proclamation did not apply. Slaves in Texas didn’t find out their status had changed until two years after the fact. The Proclamation was shared in Galveston, an island 60 miles southeast of Houston. Freed slaves rejoiced.
The following year, Juneteenth was born.
Last year marked an important part of history in Houston. Emancipation Park, purchased in the historic Black community of Third Ward by freed slaves in 1870, underwent major renovations. It reopened last June after a multi-million dollar project aimed to restore and revitalize an integral piece of history of the Black community and the wider city of Houston.
Here’s the thing – we don’t know what we don’t know. But at some point, we have to ask ourselves, who is telling the story of history we cling to? What perspectives are informing our viewpoints? How are we listening to a plethora of voices, bringing to bear the variety of experiences that make up a reality? This is why the Gathering has partnered with Folklore Films to prepare service learning materials. You’ll get to hear from the founder of this amazing organization, Marlon Hall, on the main stage.
So much of the history I thought of as THE history turned out to be written from one point of view. I love Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” It reminds us that history is often written from the point of view of the most powerful. What history have missed because we haven’t listened to the voices of the oppressed?
As you prepare to enter into my beloved city, take time to consider the history of this extraordinary place. We are the most diverse city in the United States, with a largely integrated population. We are a hospitable people, having a deep love and respect for Texas history. We welcome all, simply asking that folks be open minded and caring of our community and of our people.
Happy Juneteenth and welcome to Texas, y’all.
Rozella Haydée White is a spiritual life coach, leadership consultant and inspirational speaker and writer. She is the owner of RHW Consulting which seeks to restore hearts to wholeness and empower women to create and live a meaningful life. She believes that everyone is gifted and has the power to transform themselves, their communities and the world when they tap into their most authentic self.