Mr. PRYOR. Madam President, I rise today to bring attention to the celebration of Juneteenth. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States. This day celebrates African American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures.
Throughout our history, African Americans have struggled to achieve equality and freedom. They have endured a legacy of slavery and segregation. Through their belief in the American dream, they fought for equal rights and taught the Nation to look past outward appearances and judge a person by their character. Their undying quest to achieve freedom and equality is why I am here today: To honor the day where slaves in some southern States learned of their emancipation.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger went to Texas to proclaim emancipation to Texas slaves. This was the first time that slaves in Texas and other surrounding States found out about their emancipation. He 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."
Following emancipation, ex-slaves entered freedom under the most difficult conditions, penniless and homeless with only the clothes on their back. They began to migrate to the north and to southern States like Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma in search of better lives and a better future for their families. The descendants of these former slaves passed down a tradition of celebrating the emancipation announcement at the end of June because of it's significance for African Americans. The term "Juneteenth" reflects the inability of history to identify the exact date all slaves became free in this country. However, the importance of the event is memorialized in this celebration and is often observed as a time to remember the past and look to the future.
The first Juneteenth celebrations were political rallies used to teach freedmen about voting. Cakewalks, baseball games, contests and parades would come to be identified as traditional parts of the celebration as well. However, from the very beginning food, family and friends played central roles in these remembrances.
Many African Americans will continue this celebration through various activities in their local communities. I was honored to join Arkansans in celebrating Juneteenth in Little Rock this past weekend, and I challenge all Americans to join me in celebrating the rich history and countless contributions African Americans have made in our country, to remember the struggles for dignity and racial equality in America and to commit to fighting for equality in our schools, workplaces and in our communities.