Here at the newspaper, we sometimes have a potluck luncheon to celebrate a holiday, usually around Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas.
When that happens, Office Supervisor Julie Everly makes her way around the newspaper office and hands us each a piece of paper informing us of the pending luncheon so we can decide what dishes we want to bring to the event, held during our lunch hour.
Julie usually makes the rounds a couple of weeks in advance, so there is proper time to anticipate the upcoming feast — and feast is not too strong a word, given the skills of some of my culinary-minded colleagues.
Since we'd recently passed Memorial Day and the Fourth of July seemed to far away at that point, I asked Julie what particular holiday we'd be celebrating this time.
"Juneteenth," she said.
After Julie said "Juneteenth," I recalled the first time I'd ever heard the word, years ago. It sounded to me like two works put together, which is exactly what it was — June and the 19th. It signified June 19, 1865, the day Union General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 to the people of Texas, informing them that the Civil War was over and that all enslaved people were to be set free.
When I was a kid I'd been taught in public schools about how the nation's 16th President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery and how the Civil War had ended with the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, but I've since learned that things as horrible as slavery and the Civil War seldom ended as tidily as explained in the history books of the day.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, with it set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, abolishing slavery only in states that were then in rebellion against the Union. Those Confederate states rebelling against the Union at the time simply ignored the proclamation.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, on April 19, 1865, but he only surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. It took a couple more months for other remnants of the the Confederate Army to work out other terms of surrender.
Also, the U.S. Senate passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1864 and the House passed the measure on Jan. 31, 1865, abolishing slavery and servitude in all the states, except as punishment for a crime.
Despite these measures, the people in Texas continued as if slavery was still in full effect.
That's why Union General Granger arrived by ship in Galveston Bay on June 18, 1865. The following day, on June 19, he read General Oder No.3 aloud to a gathering of local Texans.
It stated: "The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."
Granger brought a Union regiment along with him to make sure his order was understood and that Texas got the point.
Since then Juneteenth has been recognized as the time when slavery was abolished in the United States.
A Juneteenth celebration has become a McAlester tradition. This year it's being celebrated in Michael J. Hunter Park, beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 15 — a few days earlier than the official date of June 19, so it can be held on a Saturday.
Ironically, the official Juneteenth celebration of June 19 is only five days after Flag Day, which celebrates when Congress authorized the "Stars and Stripes" as the official American Flag on June 14, 1777.
In 1777, it was far from a foregone conclusion that the Stars and Stripes would prevail, since Americans were still fighting in the War for Independence against England — the most powerful nation on earth at the time. We all know how that turned out.
The Revolutionary War ended in 1783, but just 79 years later, Americans would be fighting each other in the War Between the States.
June 14 and Flag Day is special day to recognize what the flag of the United States represents in regard to freedom.
And Juneteenth is fitting as another day for all of us to celebrate another advancement in the nation's march toward the ideal of freedom for all.
I talked to Miller Newman, president of the Pittsburg County Chapter of the NAACP, a few years ago upon the 150th anniversary of the original Juneteenth event.
Newman said many people these days think only of black slaves being held at the time, but others were also held in servitude.
"You had indentured servants and people of different ethnic groups were slaves in different parts of the country," he said.
Even after the Emancipation Proclamation and passage of the 13th Amendment, many families remained in near-servitude as sharecroppers, he said.
Newman noted that today we face problems with human trafficking and it's becoming more prevalent. He hoped commemorating Juneteenth and everything for which it stands will help us to remain mindful not only of those who were held in servitude in the past, but also of those who are in servitude today.
"This is something we all need to be mindful of," Newman said.
Juneteenth. It's something we all should celebrate, but we must continue to strive to make servitude and human trafficking in any form a thing of the past.
In doing so, we help keep the Stars and Stripes flying high.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com