July 7, 2017

Juneteenth celebrates abolition of slavery

WASHINGTON — “Juneteenth, the annual observance commemorating the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery, represents what is possible,” Navy Vice Adm. Kevin Scott said at a Pentagon ceremony today.

“I am three generations removed from slavery in the state of Virginia, and so when I think about Juneteenth, I think what it must have been like to be in Galveston, Texas, on that day when those soldiers were over in the town,” said Scott, the Joint Staff’s director of joint force development.

While slavery was abolished in states in rebellion by the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, that news did not reach Texas until Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger traveled to Galveston with Union troops and issued General Order No. 3. 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.”

“The soldiers represented what this country could be and what this country should be,” Scott said, adding, “That uniform represented something.” Scott spoke in the Hall of Heroes, a room in the Pentagon where the names of all the Medal of Honor recipients are listed.

Juneteenth’s personal meaning

Juneteenth has significant personal meaning for Scott, who explained he lived in segregated Portsmouth, Virginia, in the 1960s.

“It touched home for me 100 percent, when as a new, shiny pilot with my wings on, I was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia,” he said.

As he drove his mother around nearby Virginia Beach and excitedly pointed to sites, she suddenly fell silent, he said. She said she never imagined he would have made it where he was — not because of his potential, but because of the tremendous challenges African-Americans faced, he said.

“She said, ‘When I was a young girl growing up, we couldn’t go to Virginia Beach.’ I get choked up just thinking about it.”

Possibilities, opportunities

“Embrace the excitement and hope of Juneteenth,” Scott urged.

“It’s about what is possible. It’s about the opportunity,” he said. “That spirit of Juneteenth in terms of what is possible should motivate us, should drive all of us, for our children’s sake and for our sake.”

Scott reminded the audience that many ordinary things — just like his drive around Virginia Beach — are actions that once were restricted for African-Americans but are now guaranteed freedoms that people can do without a second thought.

“We need to stand by each other and support each other and celebrate this day for what it is,” he said.

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