UT reflects on Juneteenth with celebration


Emily Ng

Philemon Brown, chair of the Black Faculty Staff Association, thanks Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly for reading the Emancipation Proclamation in honor of Juneteenth on June 18th, 2013.

Wynne Davis

LT Robinson had never heard the General Order #3 , the order that freed enslaved persons in Texas, until Tuesday.

Robinson, a native Texan who is black, said hearing the order two hundred years after its announcement was still a touching moment.

“It gave me a chance to reflect on my ancestors and what had probably happened to them,” Robinson said, who is a program manager for the Division of Housing and Food. “It was a proud moment, and an emotional moment, for me.”

Congregating on the East Mall around the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue Tuesday, members of the UT and Austin community gathered to celebrate Juneteenth, the day enslaved persons in Texas were first informed of their freedom in 1865. Juneteenth is always on June 19. The announcement occured nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

A reading of the Proclamation by Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly kicked off the celebration. After the reading, the congregation moved to the Legislative Assembly Room for lunch and a guest lecture.

Robinson said she is still surprised to see how many people don’t know about the origins of Juneteenth, which to her emphasizes the need to spread more awareness about the holiday.

Philemon Brown, chair of the Black Faculty and Staff Association, which helped put on the celebration, said the focus of the congregation is to have a day of reflection on the history of black peoples in the United States and the legacy of slavery.

Dr. Thomas VanDyke, who spoke at the guest lecture, was the first black person to work in the University’s admission office and said he has seen substantial change at the University since his time on campus. However, he added there is still progress to be made.

“It is important to pause for a moment and take a glance over your shoulder to look back, to give us an opportunity to measure how far we have come over how far we must continue,” VanDyke said.

VanDyke said when he came into his position in 1979, then University President Stephen H. Spurr wanted to create a more diverse campus. VanDyke said Spurr expected the admissions office to recruit more students of color, despite resistance from government and University officials. 

When the conversation moved to the current Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin Supreme Court case, the case that will decide the future of UT’s race-conscious admissions policy, VanDyke said the University would still commit to finding a way to increase the diversity of the student body regardless of the way the Surpreme Court rules. 

Correction: This article has been updated to show that the reading LT Robinson heard Dean Lilly read was General Order #3.