Today is Juneteenth. In commemoration of this day, let us take some time to listen to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by James Weldon Johnson.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. As he tells it:
A group of young men in Jacksonville, Florida, arranged to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. My brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and I decided to write a song to be sung at the exercises. I wrote the words and he wrote the music. Our New York publisher, Edward B. Marks, made mimeographed copies for us, and the song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children.
Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used.
The lines of this song repay me in an elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children. (1)
June 19th, 1865 was the day that Union General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and to officially enforce the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in the United States. General Granger publically read General Orders No. 3 which declared, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
It was two months after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, and two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but it June 19th came to be noted as the day that freedom came for slaves throughout the country. Thus “Juneteenth” came to be remembered as the day to celebrate freedom for slaves. It was in December of that year that the ratifying of the 13th Amendment made the abolition of slavery official.
While Juneteenth was celebrated by African American communities through the years, it was not until 1979 that Texas became the first state to make it an official holiday. (2)
(1) Quote from The Poetry Foundation at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46549
(2) See “What is Juneteenth at Ask History, http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/what-is-juneteenth