Op-Ed: A visit to the Juneteenth Legacy Project a revelation to me

 

As I walked through the exhibit at the Juneteenth Legacy Project in Galveston, Texas and studied the history of the Juneteenth emancipation of slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865, I wondered why had I not learned this story before? Why is this story not in our American History book? Rather, my history teacher at the Awty International School in Houston encouraged us to visit the Juneteenth Legacy Project to learn about this historic event that originated in Galveston. 
 
I stood at the very place where on June 19, 1865, Union Major Gen. Gordon Granger delivered Order No. 3, freeing all enslaved people in Texas. Many of these slaves did not know that they had been emancipated two years earlier when President Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation! The slave owners, however, knew. Major Gen. Granger came with Union troops, seventy-five percent of whom were black, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and to free all enslaved people, as necessary, by force. 
 
I had the honor of interviewing Samuel Collins, a historian who is the co-founder of the Juneteenth Legacy Project. I asked Mr. Collins, "Why is this history of Juneteenth not taught in our schools, and why is it not in our textbooks?"
 
Mr. Collins replied, "This is because history is most often written by the victors, and as this significant event was left out of the historical literature, as it was essentially buried, former slaves passed on the story of Juneteenth to their descendants through the oral tradition of storytelling."
 
Individual communities thus celebrated Juneteenth locally for decades. Only after the tragic death of George Floyd did the story of Juneteenth become more widespread, and on June 17, 2021, Juneteenth became a national holiday. With the establishment of this national holiday, we finally honor these former slaves who kept this history alive, and we honor this momentous event in our nation's history that is a milestone in human rights not only for African Americans but for all Americans. 
 
After this visit to the Juneteenth Legacy Project, I realized that I truly hope that we as a society cease to chronicle history, as Mr. Collins noted, from the point of view of the dominant or ruling class.
 
Rather, I hope that we teach our children and chronicle in our history books now the entire story of the minority group as well. I hope that it doesn't take another tragedy like the senseless and heartless death of George Floyd to once again shine the light on "buried" history. In the meantime, until the history textbooks catch-up, I encourage everyone to visit the Juneteenth Legacy Project to learn about this pivotal event in our nation's history.

This op-ed was originally published in The Galveston Daily News

Greg Shafir Zelitt is a ninth-grade student at Awty International School in Houston. 

The Juneteenth Legacy Project was founded in 2020 by Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz, a board member of the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, and Sam Collins, a historian and member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Juneteenth Legacy Project is now an initiative of the Nia Cultural Center

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