Lena Anderson (left) at White Plains Juneteenth celebration
Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th 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. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or neither of these version could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question. For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.
The celebration remains important to current generations because it highlights and parallels the conditions of today that keep African-Americans in a state of second-class citizenship. Local laws that encouraged incarceration and limitations on the movements of African Americans began in 1865, and in spite of voting rights and other freedoms guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, institutionalized racist behaviors continue to limit economic progress towards the “inalienable rights and freedoms” were have been promised. The current generations must be constantly reminded that we cannot rest our laurels on gains made in the past as we continue to be lynched by the justice system today. We must emulate the tenacity of those entrepreneurs who built a “wall street” in Oklahoma and in the Town of Greenburgh where we live. We must never forget the crosses burned on the yards of those who succeeded or challenged injustice because we are only a burning cross away from revisiting those days again. We cannot laugh at the disrespectful jokes about lynching or the treatment of our first African American President who has demonstrated dignity and competence in spite of the abuse. Most of all, our young people have to abandon the thought that “nigger” can be a term of endearment. It is offensive today as it was yesterday; it means ‘ignorant one’ and should not be embraced. Even though the odds remain against us, we are known to beat the odds. We must show up for parent meetings, school board elections, and this next election in order to insure our future and the future of our youth. The people in Texas were kept ignorant, and therefore, remained enslaved. Maya Angelou tells us, “Do the best you can until you know better, and when you know better, do better”. Certainly we can do better.
Lena Anderson is the current President of the White Plains/Greenburgh Branch of the NAACP. Anderson also was the past Director of Christian Education for Bethel Baptist Church in White Plains. She serves on the Passage to Excellence Executive Board as an education liaison to all of the educational programs done by this 501(c)(3) organization to support the church ministries.
Black Westchester - News With The Black Point Of View is an online news magazine for people of color for Westchester and the Tri- State area of New York at every economic level. Our mission is to promote the concept of “community” through media.