“All slaves are free” – with these words finally heard on June 19, 1865, in Galveston Texas, the world changed forever. I can only imagine! Each June 19th we commemorate Juneteenth, the day when word of the Emancipation Proclamation made it to the farthest reaches of our Nation in Texas. Nearly three years had passed since President Lincoln had proclaimed those words – nearly two months since his assassination and the end of the bloodiest war ever experienced on U.S. soil.
The proclamation in Galveston went on to clarify this freedom included an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property – Absolute!
Beginning over 150 years ago in Texas, people have gathered to celebrate this day, recognized as the day slavery ended forever in the United States. Just a week ago, in partnership with the City of Roanoke, the Roanoke Valley Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference commemorated Juneteenth at Booker T. Washington Park.
All Are Free – But Equal?
As we note this momentous event, it is incumbent that the City not forget that some of the very same people who heard those words were but a few decades later told where in Roanoke they were and were not welcome. Their children and grandchildren would face discrimination and even bodily harm. The very spot where those gathered last week was once a dump with trash blowing near where children were attending school. Just south of Washington Park was the one place left for African Americans to open and run businesses, to gather and enjoy life, and it was bulldozed into the ground in the name of renewal and progress. Clearly much had changed and yet much remained the same. But still, the City has consistently elected people of color to higher office, ultimately that dump was closed and turned into a large park, and each year the community gathers to celebrate its diversity at the Local Colors Festival. Much work remains but much hope exists.
I was honored to play even a small role in helping this year’s Juneteenth celebration take place after a brief hiatus last year. I am pleased to be able to help commemorate something as significant as freedom. As your City Manager, I am committed to continue working with the Mayor and Council and with the residents and businesses in this community to help deliver something as necessary as equality!
- Bob Cowell