By Lew Frederick | State Senator, District 22
House Bill 2168 designates June 19 as an Oregon state holiday commemorating the arrival on horseback of the news of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to the cheers of African Americans then enslaved.
The Emancipation Proclamation news arrived in waves to the enslaved Black women and men of my family in Mississippi. Family stories say “joy” was the first emotion. Next “skepticism.” Active and often deadly reactions followed against freed African Americans by whites fearful that they might be treated the way they treated their former slaves.
“Hope” stood at the center of a possible future for my family.
Hope continues to this day. So does the skepticism.
The two dance together in our time. We need to understand how they fit together, and how they create a new world.
My family traveled the country attending science conventions and visiting relatives, conscious of but not bowing to the Jim Crow laws that kept us from staying in motels in the North and South; not bothering with restaurants that might not serve us.
We stopped at every historic marker along the way. I suspect that it was also a way for Dad to rest. He made it a point to read out loud every marker so that we had in our memory his voice, the words on the marker, and a sense of being in a certain place at a certain time.
Celebrating Juneteenth is not just a legal historical marker. It is a memory that lives on in each of us.
This year we faced the racism of the past and the racism of the present.
The murder of George Floyd in front of us, all of us, focused clearly the issues of racism and lack of personal safety. It was no longer a myth of “victimhood.”
The pandemic exposed huge holes in the fabric of our safety net for African Americans and other minority/marginalized groups, while pointing out the essential worker role praised but not compensated.
The year gave us a marker, a touchpoint, on other times. We now, via this bill, this proclamation, can learn from another time. And dedicate to changing the future in real-time without waiting for the news of equality to arrive on horseback.
I recognize efforts to resist the arc of history bending toward justice will always be there. This new holiday recognizes that the people of the State of Oregon, despite our past, can take the veil of ignorance away and each year celebrate Hope on Juneteenth. A marker to read and remember.
Lew Frederick has served in the Oregon Legislature since 2009, first representing House District 43 and now Senate District 22. Professionally, he is a strategic communications consultant, and he worked previously as public information director for Portland Public Schools and as a reporter for KGW TV.