President Biden recently signed legislation that made June 19, also known as Juneteenth, a national holiday. The origin of Juneteenth was the celebration of the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865. On that day Major General Gordon Granger arrived with federal troops in Galveston, Texas, and issued an order informing the last enslaved people in Texas that they were free. Maj. Gen. Granger’s arrival came more than two months after the end of the Civil War and two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the Southern states.
I grew up in Houston, Texas, and have always had mixed feelings about Juneteenth. For me and most African Americans in Texas, Juneteenth was a day of celebration with cookouts, family gatherings and parades. However, it has always pained me that Blacks in Texas had endured 30 months of the brutality of slavery after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – 30 months of brutally inhumane treatment and conditions, and of economic and physical exploitation.
I was also troubled by the fact that June 19, 1865, did not result in a transition from centuries of brutal bondage to an era of freedom, prosperity and opportunity for Blacks in Texas who were former slaves. In Texas and throughout the south, an era of “Reconstruction” that was way too short was followed by an era of “Jim Crow” that was efficiently brutal to the minds, souls, bodies, spirit, wealth, health and aspirations of former slaves. I am old enough to have witnessed and experienced many of the soul-crushing practices of “Jim Crow” including segregated schools, hospitals, water fountains and restrooms.
Maj. Gen. Granger’s arrival in Galveston could not give back the 30 months that Blacks in Texas lived as slaves: without compensation, freedom or basic protections that all men and women deserve. Nor could it soften the aggressive and brutal practice and institutions of the Jim Crow era that, in some cases, lasted for another century. Sadly, the fact that Juneteenth is now a federal holiday will not eradicate the inequities that are still a part of the American fabric, including those involving wealth, education, income, health and economic opportunity.
So, while I am grateful for the leadership demonstrated by Sen. Edward Markey and others in the effort that ultimately led to the recognition of Juneteenth, I cannot celebrate yet. I am grateful for the men and women from all races and backgrounds who courageously and tirelessly fought to dismantle many of the foundations of Jim Crow. Against the backdrop of threats provided by the practice of lynching of Black men and women and the terror inflicted by the Ku Klux Klan, these individuals fought for voting rights, better schools, interstate travel and so many things we may now take for granted.
Let us use Juneteenth’s recognition as a federal holiday as an opportunity to reflect not only on how much has been accomplished by individuals with courage and resilience but on how much work remains. Jim Crow is not dead; it has morphed into other forms. Voting rights are suddenly under attack, and we clearly understand the negative impact of racially-based inequities in wealth, health care, homeownership, education, participation in the C-Suite and corporate boards, and entrepreneurship. I implore the stakeholders of GNEMSDC — our MBEs and our corporate members — to maintain a laser focus on how we can deliver the drivers of minority business development: contracts, intellectual capital and access to financial capital.