Friday, June 17, 2005

John Kerry on Juneteenth

"This is a time to ensure that the values of freedom and liberty in this country are afforded to all its citizens."

Below is a statement by Senator John Kerry that he entered into the official Congressional Record in honor of Juneteenth.

"Mr. President, I wish to recognize the upcoming Juneteenth celebration that will occur this Sunday, June 19, 2005. This celebration commemorates the end of slavery throughout the United States. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, the information had not been passed to the most rural parts of the South until some two and a half years later. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, and issued the proclamation, officially freeing the town.

There are a number of theories to explain why it took so long for the message of freedom to reach many slaves throughout the South. The first is that the messenger sent by President Lincoln to deliver the proclamation to Texas was murdered on the way. The second is that news was purposely withheld by plantation owners wishing to extend their ownership of slaves. The third theory is that federal troops withheld the news to allow the plantation owners to utilize the slave labor for a final cotton harvest.

Although annual Juneteenth celebrations had been recorded in the years following 1895, they were not popular in the Jim Crow-era South and activities were banned from public property. In order to continue the celebrations, churches throughout the South held fundraisers to sponsor Juneteenth events. These events began to lose their financial support during the Great Depression as a result of lower incomes throughout the nation. At the same time, public schools also focus their teachings on the Emancipation Proclamation and often abstained from discussions of Juneteenth. There was limited recognition of the importance of Juneteenth until the Texas legislature recognized it as an official holiday on January 1, 1980.

This weekend, we take time to reflect on the evils of the institution of slavery and the effects that we see today as a result of that institution. We recognize that too many of our citizens who are the descendants of slaves suffer in poorly funded schools, with limited access to health care, and an unemployment rate twice the national average. This is a time to learn from the past and to redouble our efforts to ensure that the values of freedom and liberty in this country are afforded to all its citizens. Juneteenth is a day for reflection, for prayer and for hope that our country will continue to grow together in the spirit of liberty, equality and justice.

Mr. President, I am proud to honor the 140th commemoration of the African American Emancipation Day, June 19, 1865. Thank you."


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