CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Opponents of our diversity dialogue often suggest the celebration of cultural identity keeps us from forging a unique American identity. For instance, conservative writers Patrick Buchanan in "Suicide of a Superpower" and Charles Murray in "Coming Apart" offer opinions that the movement for the celebration of diversity is keeping us separate and causing many of the divisions our country faces.
Those who challenge the need to celebrate cultural diversity often remember a past that never was. Each wave of immigrants faced the challenge of balancing their connection to their cultural background with embracing a new American identity. Additionally, African Americans and other people of color have faced racial barriers to their inclusion and social obstacles that limited the realization of their human potential.
This conservative position is a shortsighted attempt to thwart the growing diversity movement and continue the status quo. However, we must construct ways to celebrate our cultures together as we continue to forge our joint vision for America.
It will be a wonderful display of cultural unity for the world to witness as we celebrate the Sesquicentennial of West Virginia in a multicultural, inclusive way. The celebration of the founding of West Virginia that occurred during the turmoil of the Civil War, the legacy of our historical participation in the fight for worker safety and liberty and our contribution to the expansion of civil rights and individual liberties will bring us ever closer together when all are included.
Local leaders have combined the African American celebration of "Juneteenth" with the 150th celebration of the birth of West Virginia. Juneteenth is the oldest celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Importantly, this was two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation -- which had become official Jan. 1, 1863, and six months after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery.
The reaction to this "good news" was a full range of emotions. Some of the now former slaves lingered to learn how a potentially new relationship of employer to employee would be forged. Many, if not the majority, immediately left the plantations before any of these new offers were ever made by their former enslavers. Historians suggest the differing reactions attest to the varying conditions on the plantations. Many former slaves immediately left with nowhere to go but believing leaving the plantation would be their first opportunity to exercise their new ability to make free decisions.
The celebration of June 19th has coined "Juneteenth" and has grown with more participation from descendants and those who have ties throughout the nation. The Juneteenth celebration was and is a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering family members.
The Great State of West Virginia will combine the celebrations of Juneteenth and the West Virginia Sesquicentennial from today through Thursday. A kickoff Community Forum and Celebration will start the festivities at the West Virginia Culture Center at 4 p.m. today . Other events include Social Change Discussions Monday at 6 p.m. at the Mary C. Snow Westside Elementary School, an Educational Achievement Forum at the historic West Virginia State University at 7 p.m. Tuesday and a Juneteenth Revival Celebration at the historic First Baptist Church at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The traditional celebration of West Virginia's birth will then be held throughout the day on June 20th.
The more opportunities we have to celebrate collectively, the more we will see how we all make up what is known as the American cultural experience. In West Virginia, the merging of Juneteenth and the Sesquicentennial provides yet another opportunity for us to lead the nation in how we can best construct a unified identity. The best days for our nation are yet ahead, and, much as we did during the opening of the 20th Century, the 21st century can once again confirm the Mountain State as a national leader in intercultural relationships.Fryson, a lawyer and pastor, is a Gazette contributing columnist and is the Chief Diversity Officer for West Virginia University.