ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Members of the Allentown Juneteenth Committee raised a red and blue flag with a single white star over City Hall on Sunday afternoon to recognize the anniversary of Juneteenth. June 19, 1865, was the day enslaved African Americans in Texas learned they were free, two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Allentown’s flag-raising was followed by others later in the afternoon held by Juneteenth Lehigh Valley in Easton and Bethlehem, and kicked off a week of celebrations leading up to the June 19 federal holiday.
- Members of the Allentown Juneteenth Committee raised a Juneteenth flag over City Hall Sunday, kicking off more than a week of celebrations for the holiday across the valley
- Local political leaders, including Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk and U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, spoke of the work left to do to achieve racial equality
- The June 19 federal holiday marks the end of slavery in states that seceded from the Union in the Civil War
“First, we must educate and continue to educate with the facts that are based on the truth and with truthful literature about Juneteenth, slavery and injustice,” said Juneteenth Committee member Cereta Johnson. “We cannot continue to sugarcoat what has happened, and what is continuing to happen, in this valley, in this country.”
Past recipients of the committee’s Juneteenth Educational Leadership Scholarship also addressed the crowd.
“I remember one of the questions [to write about for the scholarship] being ‘What does Juneteenth mean to you,’” said Nasheera Brown, who received the scholarship in 2020. “Juneteenth, to me, means freedom. And not only freedom, but liberty, love, family and my Blackness.”
“Juneteenth, when you get there and you celebrate, it’s going to feel like home”
2021 Allentown Juneteenth Committee scholarship recipient Cora Borde-Perry
“Juneteenth, when you get there and you celebrate, it’s going to feel like home,” said Cora Borde-Perry, who was awarded a scholarship in 2021. “You’re going to feel … so supported, you’re going to feel the community within you, within the music, within the people around you.”
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk said Juneteenth reminds him of when Rev. Gregory Edwards, senior pastor of Allentown’s Resurrected Life Community Church, said the Lehigh Valley was a place that “the Civil Rights Movement had forgotten.”
“This is a place where we haven’t quite gotten there yet,” when it comes to racial equality, said Tuerk. “We’re making progress in the city of Allentown – slow progress, but we are making progress.”
“‘A rainbow nation at peace with itself,’ that has to be our goal,” said Wild, quoting anti-apartheid South African president Nelson Mandela. “I really do believe that we must keep working for that. Our nation can only be truly just if everyone in our country experiences justice, and we can only be truly equal if equity exists across our society.”
The Allentown committee has a long weekend of Juneteenth festivities next week, including a basketball tournament, vendors and yoga at Cedar Beach Park, a flag football tournament, free swimming lessons and more.
In Bethlehem and Easton, Juneteenth Lehigh Valley will also host a variety of programs, including culinary experiences in both cities, a music festival on the SteelStacks campus and a program featuring Black authors at the Bethlehem Public Library. The events will be capped off with a parade through Easton on June 19.
In 1863, during the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to more than three million enslaved people living in Confederate states. In practice, the proclamation depended on Union forces taking control to enforce it.
By June of 1865, the Confederacy had collapsed and its generals were surrendering one by one. Texas, because of its geographic remoteness and will to keep fighting, was the last state where the proclamation was enforced.
On June 19, roughly 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay to assume federal control of the state. The general leading them, Gordon Grainger, issued an order officially notifying Texans that the more than 250,000 enslaved people in the state were free.
Slavery remained legal in some states that did not secede, like Delaware and Maryland. People enslaved in those states were freed a few months later, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment.
EDITOR’S NOTE: LehighValleyNews.com is a media sponsor of Juneteenth Lehigh Valley.