Congressman Clay Juneteenth Statement
For June 19, 2003
CONGRESSIONAL JUNETEENTH RECEPTION
U.S. Capitol Building
“Juneteenth and Reparations”
THE HONORABLE WM. LACY CLAY
Thank you Rep. Juanita Walton for that gracious introduction. And welcome to Curtis Faulkner, of St. Louis, and other esteemed dignitaries from Missouri. Thank you to the hosts of this event, Dr. Ronald Myers and my honorable colleagues in Congress, Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson and Danny Davis. Welcome everyone.
African Americans are always ready to celebrate freedom, liberty and justice. Today is no different as we celebrate our empowerment as a free people at that historical moment known as Juneteenth.
The Juneteenth story, like our President, comes to us from Texas. As you know, it was June 19, 1865 before many slaves in Texas received word that the war was over and they were a free people. It is from that date that Juneteenth celebrations come, making it the oldest known African American Emancipation Day.
Juneteenth notes the arrival of U.S. Army Maj. General Gordon Granger of the Union Army who led his troops into Galveston, Texas and proclaimed freedom for the slaves there -- more than a month after the end of the Civil War on May 10, 1865.
I think it is important to note that our celebration is not just for African Americans. While we celebrate an event that has major historical significance among the descendants of slaves, it is important that all Americans realize it is a part of their history as well. It is a part of us all.
Only in recent years have Juneteenth celebrations grown beyond Texas to reach the rest of the nation, becoming as prominent a celebration to the long established regarded date of the Emancipation Proclamation -- January 1, 1863 -- when President Lincoln ordered freedom for slaves in the Confederate states then in rebellion to the Union.
I want to thank Mr. Faulkner for doing a tremendous job of promoting Juneteenth -- through concerts and education – in St. Louis, Missouri and now, nationally. It is through efforts such as his that many people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are getting acquainted with this most important event in this nation’s history – the final, symbolic emancipation of millions of slaves and people held in bondage.
I would also like to acknowledge the Sudan Illustrators, who were among the first -- if not the first organization – to begin celebrating Juneteenth in St. Louis, in 1990.
They began with programs held in conjunction with the Progressive Emporium Bookstore, there.
In addition to the many celebrations in Missouri and around the nation, Juneteenth has also sparked interest by some in petitioning for a commemorative U.S. Postal Stamp.
While some debate whether Lincoln freed African Americans or whether we freed ourselves through resistance to slavery, I recognize the empowered struggle of enslaved Africans in America who fought for generations for their freedom; and I recognize that the world has failed to fully acknowledge and appreciate that struggle.
The untold grief and inhumanity inflicted upon so many millions of innocent people must not be ignored. Because of that, I again voice my support for a Congressional study of reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans, stolen like animals from their homes, their villages, their loved ones in Africa, and forced to live a hellish life in a strange and foreboding land. The humanity for all Americans demand justice.
Without reparations, Juneteenth and all other celebrations of our survival in America, are hollow and empty festivals.