• AT USP ALLENWOOD – JUNE 19, 1999

by Sundiata Acoli

Thank each of you, the Nation of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple, the Sunni Muslims, the Rastafarians, the Five-Percent Nation, the Puerto Rican Independistas, the Latin Kings, Crips, Bloods, Gangster Disciples, revolutionaries, the Native Americans and other representatives for participating in this event.

Juneteenth originated from the Emancipation Proclamation sent out by telegraph by then president Abraham Lincoln on January 1st, 1863, during the height of the Civil War. To emancipate means to free from bondage, oppression or restraint. A proclamation is the act of announcing something officially and publically. Basically the proclamation stated that all slaves in the states still in rebellion were henceforth and forever more free. But those states still in rebellion, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas and others were at war against the Union, so they simply ignored the proclamation, didn’t inform the slaves about it – and kept on fighting. So the slaves in the rebelling states remained in bondage until the end of the Civil War around April, 1865, and for a short time after.

There are many stories about how slaves in Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation. One of the more colorful ones is that a Black man left Washington, D.C. on a mule on January 1st, 1863 spreading the word thru the South that the slaves had been freed and he didn’t reach Texas until June 19th, 1865. But the only documented occurrence seems to be the one in which General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865 and proclaimed the slaves free and the Civil War over. Since then Blacks in Texas have celebrated June 19th, eventually contracted to “Juneteenth,” as Emancipation Day. i was born and raised in Texas, and during my youth i remember Whites frequently asking me and Blacks in general whether we were going to celebrate “Juneteenth.” i always replied “yes.” Many middle class Blacks were ashamed of “Juneteenth” amd most told Whites they didn’t celebrate “Juneteenth” but celebrated July 4th instead. They were lying, they celebrated Juneteenth along with the rest of the Black communities in Texas but simply denied doing so to Whites. The point is that Juneteenth was kept alive by the common Black man/woman who embraced it and were proud of it as a Black Holiday to be celebrated with Bar-B-Q’s, picnics, fish frys, dances, track and field, baseball games, entertainment and cultural events — and over the years Juneteenth Celebration spread throughout the Southwest, the Midwest and eventually evolved coast to coast as a celebration of “Black Independence Day.”

Now a word about unity. Everybody talks about it, it’s always desired but seldom achieved because few of us practice it where it really counts, that is, in our political life. Politics is simply the working out of power relationships among people concerning issues that effect their lives. Usually the most powerful group among them is represented as the government – so politics is generally the working out of power relationships between the people and their government or authorities.

Who is the government or the authorities as far as we prisoners are concerned? It’s the administration. So when we talk about unity we’re mostly talking about unity in the face of the administration. As i said, we talk about unity but seldom practice it due to dislike of the person, or their cause or methods; or distrust, laziness, spite – “he didn’t support me, so i’m not supporting him” – or we’re too busy with other activities, etc. … but the greatest deterrent to unity is “fear” of punishment. So the real key to unity when dealing with the administration, and the cause is right, is to show a little courage and stand with your brothers. It’s as simple as that concerning unity. Nothing to it but to show a little courage and do it.

Sundiata Acoli