An Emancipation Story
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas — two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — and took control of the state. On that day, U.S. General Gordon Granger read what is known as General Orders No. 3, which said: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Texas had remained a stronghold for slavery until that day, which is now commemorated as Juneteenth. It honors the end of slavery in the U.S. and has become the longest-running African American holiday.
Radio-Television-Film Professor and filmmaker Ya’Ke Smith has celebrated Juneteenth as long as he can remember.
“It was and still is a way of honoring my ancestors," he said. "During these celebrations, we could feel them with us as we spoke their names and told their stories.”
This month, Smith released his documentary “Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom" about the holiday. The film opens with powerful spoken words over cinematic footage from Galveston and walks viewers through the history of Juneteenth and its ties to Galveston, with vignettes from historians and activists. Smith became involved with the documentary after writing a Juneteenth devotional for Our Daily Bread Voices Collection, a non-denominational, non-profit organization that promotes equity and diversity by promoting written, spoken and visual content that serves people of African descent.
While making the movie, Smith walked the grounds of a plantation where slaves had suffered after long hours of back-breaking work. He sat in the pews of a church where they made their petitions to God for freedom. He listened to stories of what they built after emancipation.
"Experiencing those moments while directing this project was life-altering for me, and being able to document it so others can know the story is the type of filmmaking I live for,” he said.
Juneteenth, though specific to Texas, is a time to celebrate freedom for all Black people, Smith said.
"The holiday cannot be boxed in or owned by one state and should commemorate liberation, freedom and new beginnings for all those who suffered through the trauma of slavery," he said. "It’s a day to remember and a day to continue strategizing what true liberation looks like."
"Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom" is available streaming online. A free screening will also take place on June 20 at the Tobin Center for Performing Arts. The event is hosted by Bexar County County Judge Nelson W. Wolff and Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores and will feature a panel discussion that includes Smith.