By Rev. Dr. Floyd D. Harris
(Editor’s note: There will be various Juneteenth events happening in Fresno beginning June 19. For more information, see our Peace and Social Justice Calendar on page 22.)
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the states rebelling against the Union, became law on Jan. 1, 1863. Many slaves in the Confederacy heard of this presidential decree by eavesdropping on slave owners, through an encounter with a Union soldier or by word of mouth. However, not all slaves received the news that Lincoln had just turned the Civil War into a moral cause against slavery.
Texas was isolated throughout the war, as the Union army had no presence there, and many Confederate slave owners sent their slaves to Texas so that the Union army could not free them. This was the case for the slaves living in Texas.
Juneteenth celebration prayer is a process that we believe God heard our ancestor cry to deliver us from our slave master who works us on his plantation. We celebrate our freedom by a range of activities and entertain the masses of people throughout the day. We have rodeos, fishing, barbecuing, baseball and our elders come and educate the community about their history. Soul food and cooking plays a big role in the Juneteenth celebration.
A special meat dish will be prepared like lamb, pork and beef to feed the community. Dressing was also an important element in early Juneteenth celebration customs; it is taken seriously particularly by the direct descendants. During slavery, there were laws on the books in many areas that prohibited or limited the dressing of the enslaved. During the initial days of the emancipation celebrations, there are accounts of former slaves tossing their ragged garments into the creeks and rivers to adorn clothing taken from plantations belonging to their former masters.
Rev. Dr. Floyd D. Harris is the president of the National Network in Action. Contact him at 559-790-4277 or visit www.xyfloyd.wix.com.