Juneteenth Off The Record

Juneteenth Off The Record


On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with good news to share: the end to the long and gruesome Civil War and the emancipation of black slaves. This life-changing news, however, was delivered a staggering two-and-a-half years after the initial emancipation date of January 1, 1863. The late yet momentous news from General Granger still seems to be pending in its recognition within our history.

As we celebrate Juneteenth this month we are reminded of the rich history of the black community. From barbeques to neighborhood block parties, we all choose to remember the work of our ancestors in one fashion or another; the work that provided the economic, cultural, social, and political foundation that defines our great nation as it is today.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, residents memorialize Juneteenth through an annual 10-day celebration of black music, art, and entertainment. This year, a constituent of mine, Larry Ridley, will be honored for his contributions to black culture during the ten days. Ridley, a Jazz Artist-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, who has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman and Dinah Washington, has lived in Harlem since 1993.

In my district, the Harlem community will celebrate together the holiday and history of black heritage this Saturday, on June 18th at the 18th Annual Juneteenth Parade and King Fest.  The event is part of the many festivities taking place throughout New York, Texas, and 37 other states, along with District of Columbia.

Although Juneteenth has gained widespread acceptance as a commemoration marking the end of slavery, there is still progress to be made. Eleven states do not recognize Juneteenth. Some of these states were prominent slave states before the Civil War and their residents have not been told the true stirring story of the black community to this day.

Black history is a living story of people overcoming hardships to rise to the mountaintop. It is a story to be told to all Americans, new immigrants, and people worldwide aspiring for a better future. Yet events such as Juneteenth are left out of most history textbooks, only to be passed through word of mouth. Just as General Granger’s  message to the enslaved blacks in Texas was delayed in the 1860s, so too is the acknowledgment of June 19th’s cultural relevance long overdue.

People have a right to know and to be educated of their history with detail and precision. The story of Juneteenth is our history. I am proud not only to be a part of such flourishing narrative, but also to share it.

Congressman Charles B. Rangel represents the 15th District of New York, now serving in his 20th term.  He was the first African American to Chair the House Ways and Means Committee and is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.