The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Galveston District held a Juneteenth observance ceremony, June 12, 2023.
Galveston District Equal Employment Manager Dr. Rose Caballero served as guest speaker for the observance, held at the district’s headquarters and online via WebEx.
Caballero began the ceremony with a recorded message from Galveston District Commander Col. Rhett Blackmon.
“Juneteenth commemorates the day enslaved Black people of Texas learned they were finally free from their bondage,” Blackmon said. “This momentous celebration has it’s roots right here in our own home of Galveston, Texas.”
In 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, of the Union Army, marched into Galveston Island and issued General Order No. 3, proclaiming, “In accordance with a proclamation from the executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
“This proclamation also laid the foundation for what many believe to be the true day of independence for African Americans,” Blackmon said.
“Throughout history—even when laws change for the greater good—old attitudes and behaviors, which cause pain, can linger and hold back society as a whole,” Blackmon continued. “That should never stop us from working to be champions of inclusion, diversity, and equality. Change—inevitable as it is—can be slow. However, if each individual contributes, its impact can be lasting.”
Caballero touched on the history of Juneteenth celebrations across the country. Earlier Juneteenth celebrations were often used as political rallies for giving newly freed Black people instructions on how to vote. During the Jim Crow era, the celebration experienced a decline, Caballero said. However, from 1936 to 1951, the Texas State Fair served as a destination for celebrating Juneteenth. From the second wave of the Great Migration—a movement of African Americans out of the rural south and into the urban areas of the Northeast, Midwest, and West—the Black people of Texas brought Juneteenth to the cities of Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and San Francisco. The observance again experienced a decline during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960. In 1979, Texas made Juneteenth an official state holiday.
It would be another 42 years before Juneteenth would be federally recognized as a holiday, Caballero said. She recanted the story of Opal Lee, considered to the ‘grandmother of Juneteenth.’ Lee is a retired schoolteacher and activist who—at the age of 89—conducted a walk from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., to give Juneteenth federal holiday status.
To close out the ceremony, Caballero invited gospel recording artist Ingrid Johnson to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing”—regarded by many as the ‘Black national anthem.’
The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was passed by the U.S. Senate on June 15, 2021, and by the House of Representatives on June 16, 2021, signing into law as Public Law 117-17, designating June 19 as a federal holiday.
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