PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Though the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863, Texas didn’t respond for more than 2 years.
But on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger was sent by President Andrew Johnson to Texas to tell the slaves they were free.
“When he arrived, there was no social media at that time, no email, no Facebook,” said Heather Coleman-Cox, the media relations director of Juneteeth Oregon. “So it took him two weeks to go through that territory and notify all the plantations that they needed to release their slaves.”
That’s why June 19 — Juneteenth — has taken on importance over the years and in recent days.
Juneteenth is now a paid holiday in both Portland and Multnomah County.
Juneteenth Oregon is a non-profit that’s been publicly celebrating and commemorating this day for 47 years.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said knowing the true American history is important. He said he’ll use this day as a time of reflection, while others will use it as a day of action or opportunity to be with family.
“But the important thing here is that we are finally celebrating this important and monumental moment in US history,” Wheeler said. “But it’s also important to bring it into the present and talk about the path that we have to walk together in the years ahead. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
The mayor noted that freeing the Texas slaves on Juneteenth still encouraged Black Americans to work for their former masters. He said it wasn’t as genuine or authentic as it could have been — which brings us to the current level of civil unrest.
“Here we are generations later, we’re still struggling with racial injustice and inequity. I think that’s why Juneteenth is so important right now in the middle of this Black Lives Matter movement, in the middle of this national dialogue and national reckoning,” Wheeler said. “Juneteenth, I believe, takes on a whole new symbolic importance.”
For this history to be spotlighted as a holiday in Portland means a lot to the Black community and the event organizers.
“Even to this day, it is a struggle and we are very excited that the whole country has come out. I have become aware, it’s so visible, the injustice that happens to African-Americans in this country and the majority of people in this country have a heart that is open and equal,” Coleman-Cox said.
Juneteenth is traditionally celebrated in the streets with colorful parades and vibrant music, people gathering around good food and good company. But during the pandemic, organizers said they’ll celebrate differently.
“I’m going to miss that this year because we can’t have our event outside,” Coleman-Cox said. “However, you can tune in online and, we’re going to have something great lined up for everyone.”
The event is Saturday from 1-4 p.m.