As we approach the unofficial end of summer with the Labor Day holiday weekend, it’s good to take time and look back at a significant and growing holiday that occurred earlier this season — Juneteenth, which celebrates the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the primary focus of the proclamation was, of course, to end slavery, when Gen. Gordon Granger presented the proclamation to the citizens of Texas, the rights of laborers were expanded to all workers. “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.”
This summer, WMU-Cooley students involved in the law school’s Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic hosted their own Juneteenth Celebration with a day to honor our elderly and their contribution to labor and society.
Luis Vasquez, a third-year law student who was born in Guatemala and raised in Texas, said, “I found this event very interesting. Not only did I learn about some of the history surrounding Juneteenth, but I got to be a part of the festivities. It was my first time attending a Juneteenth celebration. The people, food, and atmosphere made the event meaningful and fun.”
Sixty Plus ambassadors worked with Professor Emerita L. Patricia Mock and the Stone Community Outreach project to provide free legal information to local elderly residents.
“The Juneteenth Celebration was definitely a cultural experience. It was packed with art, music, entertainment and amazing food. I enjoyed talking with individuals of all ages and of diverse walks of life. I was able to share one of my many passions – educating people about what we do at the Sixty Plus Clinic. The Juneteenth Celebration was a wonderful experience and I am happy that I was able to participate this year,” shared WMU-Cooley law student Khadija Swims.
“It was a mighty privilege to participate in the Juneteenth celebration. Being a Texan transplant from Alabama, and having only experienced the Texas-styled Juneteenth, the Lansing shindig was fun,” exclaimed weekend WMU-Cooley law student Stephanie Samuels. “I especially enjoyed the music, and it was a pleasure to work the booth with fellow students and Professor Mock, and to meet and share fellowship with the Lansing celebrants this year. I’m sort of a history geek and loved to share with anyone who would listen, the interesting, “did-you-know” and “better-late-than-never” stories about how Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. I usually got a “I didn’t know that” reaction to my explanation,” stated Samuels.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of a turning point in liberation where freedom begins to have more meaning and gives us a deep appreciation for those who have struggled in the past to bring us out of bondage,” said Rev. Dr. Melvin T. Jones, pastor of the Union Missionary Baptist Church in Lansing. “It’s really a celebration of life, especially African American life in this country.” Dr. Jones added that for children, “Juneteenth is an opportunity to peel back to the days before Martin Luther King, Jr. and look at those people from history whose shoulders we stood on, and on whose shoulders we stand, as it relates to what our freedom is all about,” he added.
It is fitting that, as we honor all workers with Labor Day, that we also honor the landmark events in history that make this possible for everyone. As Juneteenth attendee Jean Davis stated, “we need to remember the struggles our forefathers went through so we could have the privileges we have today.”