Today is a holiday across the United States that many people whose ancestors weren’t enslaved may not know about, much less celebrate.

Juneteenth is the anniversary of the day in 1865 that Union Gen. Gordon Granger and hundreds of soldiers from the North freed by decree a large number of slaves at Galveston Island, Texas, who were still being forced by rice plantation owners there to work the fields. This was several months after the Civil War had ended in defeat for the South.

Their days of forced labor and terror at the hands of their masters had officially ended. Their struggle for acceptance and a new way of life was just beginning, of course. But it truly was their Independence Day. Like the Fourth of July, when Americans commemorated the colonies’ rebellion against and eventual defeat of Great Britain, they were released from imprisonment from those who raised arms against their own countrymen, tearing the nation in half to establish their own rickety government with its rules concerning ownership of other human beings. 

Texas declared Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980 and over time other states and the District of Columbia did the same, designating the date as a state or ceremonial holiday. Only Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota do not mark the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy.

The observance includes lectures, exhibitions on African-American culture, picnics, street fairs, family reunions and historical reenactments.

We admit that we were not familiar with Juneteenth, more evidence of the divide and disconnect that exists between people whose forebears were considered property and those born into families without that oppression, humiliation and pain. 

Rather than the continued recognition and for some glorification of the Confederate States of America through monuments, statues and the flag of the failed rebellion, which is not the flag of our nation, the one to which we pledge allegiance, we should recognize the importance of other significant events of the past that have brought us to the present.

It stands to reason that the more people of different backgrounds know about each other the less likely they will be to cause harm.

Ask anyone who has hosted a foreign exchange student. Different cultures, one human race.

Let’s try to find more common ground on which to stand as we face current and future challenges together.

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