They knew.

Yes, they knew, the owners of living souls. The owners of women and men, children and the elderly. People who laughed and cried, lived and, most assuredly, died. Yes, the slaveholders in Texas knew of the Emancipation Proclamation and didn’t heed it. Why should they? War is war and concern for the enslaved had died aborning long centuries before.

It was two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and three months after the official end of the Civil War before the enslaved in Texas learned they were free – that they had been free for years without their knowledge. The date was June 19th, later shortened to Juneteenth.

That Juneteenth comes this year in the midst of the pandemic, protests and questions of who we are as a people is fitting because it helps us understand the nature of change. How it can be both fast and slow, obvious and, oh, so subtle.

As organizations struggle with the shifts of expectations from some of their employees and the desire from others to keep the status quo, it can be difficult to know how to go forward.

Yet, there are lessons to be learned from the newly freed people whose lives suddenly changed – if in no other way than they owned themselves. And it is the learnings from their experiences that may lend guidance to today’s upheavals.

  • Going forward is the only option, even if the way is not clear.
  • The change must be part of a well-planned strategy. If not, you could be working on the same issue for 400 years.
  • When a wave of change comes, not everyone will support it. You must move forward anyway.
  • Education about the change and the new world is critical. Talk about it whenever you can. Act on it more than you talk.
  • Share information freely.
  • Answer questions fully. Ask questions regularly.
  • Explain why the change is needed.
  • Learn to live with discomfort – real change isn’t easy.
  • And don’t forget to celebrate a new day.

Happy Juneteenth, which started at the end of the beginning and is taking us to the beginning of the end.