Why Juneteenth Matters

Ezer + Co. - Juneteenth Celebration

Even as a black person, June 19, 1865 was an unknown date to me throughout my early education (elementary through high school. Even with an entire month, dedicated to “Black History” I still was unaware of what is a VERY important date for my ancestors and myself today.

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended, and slaves had been freed. It was two and half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Over 900 days later, the slaves in Texas were given their legal freedom.

The Emancipation Proclamation became the prequel to total freedom for all.

It was as if freedom was an option—either to openly free black men, women, and children or keep this information hush-hush so that slave owners could continue to benefit from free labor.

Ezer + Co. Juneteenth Celebration - Colonel Allen Allensworth

My first awareness of Juneteenth began on a church field trip to Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park in Earlimart, CA. In 1974, California State Parks purchased land within the historical town site of Allensworth, the only California town to be founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. Colonel Allensworth was a born a slave, yet when he retired in 1906 he’d become the highest-ranking black officer of his time.

Within 2 years after his retirement, Allensworth created the town in his name to be the first independent and self-governed ranching and farming colony for free black people. Complete with its own school, a church, and a bank, the town of Allensworth offered a safe haven for over 300 families of free blacks that had continued to be oppressed and controlled under a Southern sharecropping system that was designed to keep blacks on the same plantations that they were working before the war. (QUOTED SOURCE: California Department of Parks and Rest)

This State Park hosted Juneteenth celebrations annually. I truly enjoyed these celebrations as I learned from the event hosting, as well as listening to the senior Church members share their personal stories.

We need to go back and rewrite American history books, documenting a fuller history—more of the truth. The truth about our history as it happened, not sugar-coated based on the state, city, or economic location of the author or publisher and those they wish not to offend. 

Yesterday, Juneteenth was declared a National Holiday. This is step one. Most holidays that don’t personally impact us, don’t mean anything but a day off. My hope and prayer is that holiday or not we will not forget the injustice, pain, suffering, and tears of those before us who’ve endured just to survive.

Life for my black ancestors was NOT free. It was earned, based on the opinion of another man.

If we don’t know our history, we will continue to repeat the past. This is true of all history: Native American, Jewish, African American, Asian American, and for women. When we hide events or information or justify it to fit our personal gain, we hinder the next generation from growth, knowledge, and the truth. But we know, the truth will set us free.

While there is much lament for parts of our history, we don’t have to stay in a state of mourning to celebrate the rivers, mountains, and valleys our ancestors had to endure.

What I have learned and will continue to celebrate from my ancestor is their strong faith in a good God, not being afraid to push through injustices, and NEVER giving up.

Today, as women and people of color, we have a stronger voice. Don’t let it be silenced by acceptance of what was the norm or accepted. Be the change, while celebrating the literal weight those before you carried.

I would like to challenge and encourage the women and friends in this community of warriors. As we continue to achieve our personal and corporate goals, knocking down walls that should have never been built, let us not forget the responsibility we each hold to educate and support ALL diversity and history. 

Taking responsibility will allow space for learning from the past as we continue to build our future together. Our whole story matters—individually and communally. If anyone can accept this challenge, it’s a determined, focused, “woke” woman. 

Juneteenth is my history and I celebrate what we’ve overcome and press forward to continue to share my past as I live out my future.

Ezer + Co. - Deneen Ray


Deneen Ray
Certified Coach, Pastor, and Community Leader