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Celebrating Juneteenth
An Editorial from Dr. H. Roy Kaplan, University of South Florida Africana Studies Department
Celebrating Juneteenth

The adage that time is money personifies the times in which we live. All sorts of gimmicks and contraptions are used to keep us informed of events, up to date, and on time. From instant messaging to picture phones, 24-hour radio and television that plug us in around the globe, we are subjected to a barrage of communications. These devices not only inform, they also dictate the pace of our lives and influence our attitudes about ourselves, one another, and our world.

Before the modern age of printing, computers, microchips, and fiber optic cable, people learned about events the best way they could: drums, smoke signals, and runners like Pheidippides who ran 26 miles to secure aid for the Athenians from the Spartans in a battle against the Persians in 490 B.C.E. (and then, as legend has it, died from exhaustion). Even after Morse’s invention of the telegraph and its introduction in 1844, many people were unaware of critical life-changing information. They were not only oblivious to world events, but also uninformed about cataclysmic changes unfolding around them.

One such apocalyptic event played a role in changing the fabric of our society—the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. It took more than two years, however, for the word to reach slaves in many Southern states. And while the document has been heralded as the formal emancipation of slaves in the United States, it only applied to those states that had seceded from the Union, so slaves in Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia and Missouri were exempted as were Union occupied territories such as Tennessee. And, of course, in secessionist Confederate States, the decree was unenforceable.

Texas is reputed to have been the last state to learn of the news on June 19, 1865 to the joy of the 250,000 ex-slaves. The news arrived two and a half years after the signing, and two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and the assassination of Lincoln. Many African Americans observe this date, referred to as Juneteenth (combining the month and the day) to commemorate the official receipt of the news.

As Juneteenth approaches many celebratory activities will be held around the nation—the largest being a multicultural extravaganza in Texas. Few European Americans know of the significance of this holiday. Even modern telecommunications cannot bridge cultural gaps that separate and divide us. It is as if we are astronauts circling the moon, out of range of communications—L.O.S. (loss of signal).

What better time to reconnect with one another than now? We must, as the national report on race relations, One America, advised, begin a serious dialogue about race relations—a discussion that is inclusive, candid and educational, so that we can move on with making America a place where all ethnicities and cultures are valued. Time is of the essence.

For more information on Juneteenth go to and To view and print/send our animated/printable Juneteenth card, written by Kenneth Burton, please visit

H. Roy Kaplan, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in the Africana Studies Department at the University of South Florida. He was formerly the executive director of The National Conference for Community and Justice for Tampa Bay.

The USF Africana Heritage Project is Sponsored by the Africana Studies Department at the University of South Florida.
Copyright 2008 The University of South Florida and The Africana Heritage Project. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
For more information, contact the Africana Heritage Project via e-mail .