This weekend, Starkville will join Columbus in celebrating Juneteenth, an event which remains one of the great paradoxes in American history: It is a significant moment in our history, yet few events of its magnitude have received less attention.
Two-and-a-half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves held in Confederate states, and two months after Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia to bring the long bloody Civil War to an end, the last slaves were told they were free. On June 19, 1865, U.S. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order No. 3, freeing all people held as slaves.
In practical terms, the day marked the official end of slavery in the United States.
Today, 149 years later, Juneteenth celebrations are held in cities all across the country, although only Texas and Oklahoma have designated June 19 as an official state holiday.
While Juneteenth celebrations recognize the official end of slavery, we should be particularly mindful that while slavery ended, oppression did not.
In that sense, Juneteenth celebrations provide context to later milestones in this struggle for equality and fairness. Now, almost 100 years after that first Juneteenth, we are acknowledging the 50th anniversary of some of the watershed moments in that struggle.
While the final act of government-sanctioned slavery was played out in Texas, Mississippi takes center stage in the commemorations of Freedom Summer, initially known as “The Mississippi Project,” when hundreds of civil rights activists, mainly young white college students from the North, traveled to our state in a campaign to register black voters, who had been denied that right. The project also set up dozens of Freedom Schools, Freedom Houses, and community centers in small towns throughout Mississippi to aid the local black population.
Freedom Summer met brutal resistance in the state. Research by historian and author Doug McAdam indicates that during the summer of 1964, four civil rights workers were killed (including the infamous murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman near Philadelphia); at least three Mississippi blacks were murdered because of their support for the civil rights movement; 80 Freedom Summer workers were beaten; 1,062 people were arrested (out-of-state and local volunteers); 37 churches were bombed or burned and 30 black homes or businesses were bombed or burned.
As we reflect on that ugly, shameful episode in our history, it should heighten our senses to the injustices we see today.
Just as Juneteenth did not end racial oppression and Freedom Summer did not remove the inequities from our society, some vestiges of bigotry and inequality persists today.
When reflect on our continuing journey toward equality, it is worthwhile to note these epic moments in our history. Properly considered, events such as Juneteenth strengthen our resolve to move forward toward a more just society.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.