Intercultural Sensitivity is Hard, part 1

It is the custom of Community Unitarian Church at White Plains, NY, on the Sunday after Father’s Day, to observe, honor, and celebrate Juneteenth. Let our hearts open to hear the story.

Juneteenth – shortened from June Nineteenth -- is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. It was on 1865 Jun 19, that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which became official 1863 January 1.

Initially, the Emancipation Proclamation had virtually no impact on Texas – a confederate state that did not regard itself as bound by Lincoln’s executive orders. Even after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, there were few Union troops in Texas, and no one with power was much inclined to enforce Emancipation – until General Granger arrived.

According to one story, a messenger had been murdered in 1863 while on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Other accounts say the enslavers did get the word of the Emancipation Proclamation, but they kept it to themselves. Some reports say the federal troops waited until June in order to allow the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest.

One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began:
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."
Reaction to this profound news ranged from shock to immediate jubilation.

Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. Some of the newly freed headed north. Others sought out family members in Louisiana, Arkansas or Oklahoma.

Their new lives brought new challenges. Recounting and celebrating the memory of that great day in 1865 June served as motivation, and Juneteenth festivities provided a break from the pressures of their new reality. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.

Observance of Juneteenth slowly declined through the first half of the 20th century, and was revived during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Juneteenth today celebrates African American freedom and achievement and encourages continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.

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This is part 1 of 5 of "Intercultural Sensitivity is Hard!"
See also
Part 2: Unknown Freedom
Part 3: A New Approach
Part 4: Denial, Polarization, Minimization
Part 5: Go 90

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