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Celebrating liberation

Juneteenth today celebrates African American freedom and achievement while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing[1].

On June 19 of that year, Union soldiers arrived in 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[2].

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It is the embodiment of the victory of generations of slaves in their resistance against the horrors of white supremacy. On this day we celebrate early abolitionists[3] like Frances E.W. Harper, a poet, abolitionist orator, and suffragist. She spent nearly a decade traveling across the United States and Canada as an abolitionist lecturer. In 1859, she published “The Two Offers”, a story that spoke out about women’s education. This was the first short story ever published by a Black woman.

Teaching us the importance of multi-racial solidarity, at the 1866 National Women’s Rights Convention, Frances E.W. Harper famously delivered her speech “We are all Bound Up Together”which urged white suffragists to stand up for their black sisters. Harper continued her leadership by co-founding the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. 4]

Sarah Mapps Douglass, born September 9, 1806, was a dedicated educator, writer, fundraiser, and anti-slavery lecturer[5]. Early on, Douglass operated and taught at a private school for African American Women. She later became involved with the Female Literary Association, a Black women’s society for intellectual growth and activism. Through the Association, Douglass published numerous anti-slavery pieces in a weekly abolitionist newspaper called The Liberator. In 1837, Douglass served as a committee member for the first integrated National Anti-Slavery Convention. Years later, she studied medicine and went on to teach African American women about health and physiology. She remained active in the abolitionist sphere, eventually serving as vice president of the women’s Freedman’s Aid Society[6]. Douglass’s unwavering dedication to activism and teaching made her an invaluable voice within the anti-slavery movement.

Elizabeth Freeman, “MumBet” Before she became Elizabeth Freeman, MumBet was born into enslavement and was likely in her teens when she was forced to work in the home of Colonel John Ashley in 1746. While working in the Ashley home, MumBet overheard a discussion about the newly ratified Massachussetts constitution. More specifically, she heard the words “all people are born free and equal” and figured that this statement applied to her, too.

MumBet sought the help of Theodore Sedgwick, a local lawyer and abolitionist. Sedgwick added a male party, an enslaved man called Brom, to her case in order to strengthen it. Brom and Bett v. Ashley broke ground when the jury ruled that the enslaved parties were being held unlawfully and declared both MumBet and Brom to be free. MumBet eventually chose the name Elizabeth Freeman and lived out the rest of her days as a free woman. Freeman’s persistence and faith sparked a movement. Within a few years, slavery was declared illegal in the state of Massachusetts[7].

Juneteenth is a powerful time to celebrate the lives of these and so many more incredible Black Americans who dedicated and sacrificed their lives to lay the groundwork for a society that did not accept the premise of white supremacy, who exposed the terror and rupturing that white supremacists inflict. Juneteenth offers us the opportunity to move forward in the legacies of ordinary people who defeated the system of slavery by resisting and growing a movement against white supremacy and oppression. In freedom!

[1] [2] ibid. [3] [4]Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.” National Women’s History Museum, 2020. June 17, 2020; Marcia Robinson PhD, Milton C. Sernett PhD. “Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.” National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum. June 17, 2020; The editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Frances E.W. Harper: American Author and Social Reformer.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. June 17, 2020. [5] Lindhorst, Marie. “Politics in a Box: Sarah Mapps Douglass and the Female Literary Association, 1831-1833”. Penn State. June 17, 2020. [6] Levy, Valerie D. “Sarah Mapps Douglass” Voices From the Gaps, 2009. June 17, 2020. [7] “August 22, 1781: Jury Decides in Favor of Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman. Mass Moments. June 17, 2020.

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