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Imperial Valley Residents Celebrate Juneteenth with Community Gathering

-Editorial

The Martin Luther King Pavilion buzzed with excitement as residents gathered to celebrate Juneteenth, an event organized by the Imperial Valley Social Justice Committee.

The evening was filled with food, music, entertainment, games, face painting, spoken word performances, vendors, guest speakers, and raffle giveaways, creating a vibrant atmosphere despite the triple-digit weather outside.

Many people view Juneteenth as the true Independence Day because it marks the moment when the last enslaved African Americans in Texas were informed of their freedom on June 19, 1865, a full two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. 

This date signifies the actual end of slavery in the United States, embodying a more inclusive and comprehensive notion of freedom. Advocates argue that while July 4th celebrates the nation’s independence from British rule, it did not grant liberty to all Americans, leaving millions of enslaved. Juneteenth, therefore, is seen as a more accurate representation of national freedom and justice for all citizens.

Adrianne Lawson, special events coordinator for IV Social Justice, noted the growth of the celebration, which needed a move to a larger venue. “Last year we had 200 people, and this year we had to move to a bigger venue,” Lawson said. “In the community right now, we are bringing awareness to African American people and to teachers and schools that don’t know the history of Juneteenth. We hope they can teach this in their classrooms because students don’t know what Juneteenth is.”

Marlene Thomas, a member of the IV Social Justice Committee, mentioned their focus on education and plans to meet with administrators and teachers. 

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to deliver the news to the remaining 250,000 enslaved people that the Civil War had ended and that they were free. This announcement came two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863. The delay was due to the minimal presence of Union troops in Texas to enforce the order. It wasn’t until General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865 and the subsequent arrival of General Granger’s regiment, including many Black soldiers, that the news could be enforced effectively.

The reasons for the two-and-a-half-year delay in the proclamation’s enforcement have been debated over the years. Some stories suggest that a messenger carrying the news was murdered, while others believe the news was deliberately withheld by slaveholders to maintain their labor force. Another theory is that federal troops waited for slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before enforcing emancipation.

The story of Opal Lee, a retired teacher, counselor, and activist, resonated deeply during the event. Born in 1926 in Marshall, Texas, Lee’s family home was burned down by a racist mob on June 19, 1932. At 89, Lee walked 1,400 miles from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., to promote the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Her efforts, including collecting 1.5 million signatures, were instrumental in Congress’s eventual signing of Juneteenth into law.

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