A Delta physician's tireless efforts in bringing national attention to Juneteenth is starting to pay dividends.
Several states have passed legislation to recognize the date, June 19, 1865, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger read the proclamation that declared the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, the last outpost of the defeated Confederacy to hear the news.
Though the Emancipation Proclamation officially ended legalized slavery in America on Jan. 1, 1863, it had little effect on slaves' day-to-day lives. And in Galveston, slaves weren't even told about their freedom until a year and a half later.
The Juneteenth holiday originated in Galveston and, in 1980, became a state holiday in Texas. Since then, several other states have adopted Juneteenth observances if not paid holidays.
A lot of the growing presence of Juneteenth can be credited to Dr. Ronald Myers of Belzoni, chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation and the National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council. Myers has met with social activists and political leaders nationwide, encouraging the states and the federal government to recognize Juneteenth.
On Monday, Virginia legislator Frank Hargrove proposed a Juneteenth observance for his state. Hargrove recently came under fire for saying in a Jan. 16 newspaper interview that blacks “should just get over” slavery. He has opposed legislation that would apologize for slavery.
Myers, having heard of Hargrove's comments, suggested to the Virginia delegate a Juneteenth resolution instead of an apology. Hargrove agreed.
When issues of slavery - particularly talk of reparations or apologies - are brought before a governing body, racial hostilities tend to flare up. The Virginia situation was no different, as several black lawmakers proposed censuring Hargrove for his words. However, the Juneteenth proposal should satisfy everyone.
Juneteenth is more than just an anniversary. It is a day when people - particularly African Americans, including many who live in foreign countries - celebrate the end of slavery in America. Observations may include rallies, picnics, festivals or even sporting events.
Who can be against that?
Last week, a bill was introduced in the Utah legislature to establish a Juneteenth Independence Day holiday.
Myers anticipates similar legislation will be introduced in Mississippi. With this state's history of racial division, lawmakers should quickly pass such a bill, and Gov. Haley Barbour should sign it.