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Dr. Barbara Paul-Emile

Celebrate Juneteenth

An Essay by Dr. Barbara Paul-Emile

Dear Members of the Bentley Community,

Today, June 19, 2020, marks 155 years since Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to declare the Civil War had ended and all enslaved people were free. Juneteenth—Freedom Day—was born.

Barbara Paul-Emile, Professor of English and the Inaugural Maurice E. Goldman Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences, authored a brief essay on the significance of Juneteenth for the Bentley community. Please find Celebrate Juneteenth: Emancipation of the Last African Americans in the Confederacy, below. Understanding Juneteenth’s significance is essential, and we are so thankful to Dr. Paul-Emile for sharing her perspective and wisdom. Dr. Paul-Emile has long been recognized for her outstanding teaching and service at Bentley and has received numerous awards and accolades over her impressive career, including the 2020 Adamian Award for Lifetime Teaching Excellence. And today, especially, it is so important to remember that Dr. Paul-Emile was the first African American to be tenured and promoted to full professor at Bentley.

Juneteenth, as noted by Dr. Paul-Emile, is a celebration of freedom. And yet, 155 years later, this day for jubilation still feels less than whole. The vestiges of slavery may have ended on June 19, 1865, but the racism and intolerance that enabled slavery for centuries remain alive, well and systemic in 2020. Everyday mindsets, attitudes and prejudices in our society still burden our Black classmates, colleagues, alumni, friends and family members. That is why we must assert Black lives matter in our Bentley community, in Waltham, in Massachusetts and in the United States. Until we all appreciate this, understand this and act on this, we will never be a truly free society.

Celebrate Juneteenth today. Commit to building a better future—for this community and for the world. And expect accountability within this university. Next week, the Cabinet will share some first concrete initiatives for achieving racial justice at Bentley. The new task force on racial justice, announced last week, will be responsible for making recommendations to the administration from there. We look forward to their recommendations so Bentley can grow as an anti-racist university, where differences are welcome and appreciated.

The Bentley University Cabinet

Paul Condrin
Donna Maria Blancero
Josh Brand
George Cangiano
Carolina Figueroa
Maureen Flores
Maureen Forrester
Chris Joyce
Amanda King
Judy Malone
Andrew Shepardson

Ian Wall




Juneteenth, an amalgamation of June 19th, is also known as Freedom Day and Jubilee Day. It commemorates the arrival of Major General Gordon Granger to Galveston, Texas, on June 19th, 1865 ahead of thousands of Union troops where he read Federal Order # 3 declaring that the war had ended and that all previously enslaved people were free:

“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 personal rights and rights of property between
former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing
between them becomes that of employer and hired labor. The freemen
are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. 
They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts
and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

What is interesting about this announcement is that it was being made two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which had become effective on January 1st, 1863.  Why did the federal proclamation take so long to take effect in Texas?

Several reasons for this late pronouncement have been offered.   Some believe that the federal government did not have the power to enforce its proclamation over a recalcitrant state, hence the delay.  Yet others believe that news of the emancipation was deliberately withheld from the black population by slave owners so that they might have the profit from more cotton crops. Whatever the reason African Americans labored in slavery in Texas for two and a half years after national emancipation was declared.

The general’s announcement produced shock followed by jubilation on the part of the newly freed slaves. The freed men and women wanted to leave the plantations to escape from servitude but they did not know where to go.  Indeed, they had nowhere to go.  Some were shot and killed as they endeavored to head north. Others tried to escape to neighboring states.  But at whatever cost, freedom had come and there was no looking back.

At first, because of segregation, there was much difficulty in finding parks for the yearly celebrations.  Former masters forbad use of public parks and even interrupted private celebrations on church grounds demanding that the celebrants return to work. Over time, the freed men and women saved their own money and in the 1870’s purchased 10 acres of land that they named Emancipation Park in the Houston area.  It was the only park in the state open to Blacks until the 1950’s.  Blacks also funded other parks such as Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia, Texas, in 1898.

At Juneteenth gatherings attendance could run into the thousands. There was a range of festivities: fishing, barbecuing, baseball and rodeos in the west.  There was also a focus on self-improvement and guest speakers were invited to present on the challenges facing African Americans.  All of these activities were followed by prayer services. Savory dishes were offered in great abundance as everyone brought their best to the table.   

Over time, Juneteenth festival waned as the pressures on Black lives increased under Jim Crow. Martin Luther King, however, planned his Poor Peoples March in the 60’s to start on Juneteenth and the marchers returned to their home states to revive this holiday. Today, forty-seven states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.

Everyone is invited to celebrate Juneteenth in the name of human freedom and in memory of the 250,000 African Americans who achieved their freedom late, two and half years after the national proclamation.  Juneteenth honors black achievement and reminds us that no one is truly free until we are all free. 

                                                                                                Barbara Paul-Emile, Ph.D.
                                                                                                English & Media Studies Dept.
                                                                                                Bentley University
                                                                                                Waltham, MA


Barbara Paul-Emile, Professor of English and the Inaugural Maurice E. Goldman Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences, was the first African American to be tenured and to be promoted to full professor at Bentley. She has received numerous awards and accolades over her impressive career. Some of her accomplishments include: being named Massachusetts Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation and by the Council for the Support and Advancement of Education, receiving the Distinguished Scholar Award from the University of Massachusetts, and being selected by the Women of Harvard Club Committee as an honoree for demonstrated leadership and outstanding achievement at their 3rd Annual Boston’s Most Influential Women’s Award Ceremony. Dr. Paul-Emile has been recognized for her outstanding teaching and service at Bentley, and she is the 2020 recipient of the Adamian Award for Lifetime Teaching Excellence.