Rev. Dr. Forrest Pritchett, director of special projects for Freshman Studies and program director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Program, read the Emancipation Proclamation as part of Juneteenth celebrations in Morris County on Saturday, June 8.
Pritchett read the Proclamation, an edict issued by President Abraham Lincoln that freed slaves within the rebelling states, twice throughout the day. The first reading occurred during the Civil War reenactment at the historic Speedwell Village in Morristown, New Jersey. Later that day, Pritchett read the Emancipation Proclamation during the Sankofa Morris Juneteenth Festival on the Green in Morristown.
After the second reading, Pritchett, who received the President's Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama in 2016, joined other attendees in a Freedom Walk meant to memorialize the struggle freed slaves faced upon emancipation. Without access to means of transportation, many freed slaves simply walked away from the plantations where they had been forced to work.
Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, is an American holiday that commemorates the June 19, 1865 declaration of the freedom of slaves in Texas, and, more generally, the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans throughout the former Confederate states.
President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. It became effective on January 1, 1863, but it took almost three more years before the full emancipation of America's slaves occurred on June 19, 1865. Today, Juneteenth is celebrated as Black Independence Day by African Americans across the nation.
Pritchett said it is important to study and recognize the holiday because "many people are not aware" of Juneteenth, especially compared to the Fourth of July. He said:
"The expression 'Black history is American history' is often cited as a way of implying that all of our specific cultural histories are included and captured in an understanding of American History. But as we look at the behavior surrounding the emergence of Juneteenth or Freedom Day, or the indignities surrounding the burial of African Americans in times of segregation, few Americans can honestly say that they knew those facts because it was covered when they studied American History. Many historians identified the fact that many circumstances are omitted in developing the narrative called American History.
To understand our country, Americans must understand the role slavery has played in every aspect of our country from its founding, to the development of its territories, to the development of the world's greatest economy, to the emergence of the socio-political processes to perpetuate institutional racism into the twenty-first century. Understandably, discussing slavery can make teachers nervous. But teachers who leave it out, cover it hastily, or soften its harshness inadvertently minimize its importance. This makes history 'white,' not 'right.' Most textbooks now show the horror of slavery and its impact on black America. However, they remain largely silent about its impact on White America, North or South."
Civil rights education has been a cornerstone of Pritchett's more than 50 years educating young people. Pritchett was recently honored with four awards in recognition of his lifetime of leadership in the community and dedication to social justice. The American Conference on Diversity awarded him the Humanitarian Award for Civic Advocacy, the New Jersey Black Issues Convention celebrated his work with the Community Change Award for Education, Alpha Phi Alpha presented him with its Faculty Achievement Award, and Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education selected him for its Educator Impact Award.
Categories: Arts and Culture