In the past couple of years, you may have heard about or seen Juneteenth celebrations, but how much do you know about it? Today, we’re educating ourselves on its history and learning how we can properly celebrate it!
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. Its roots go back to 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Major Gen. Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued more than two and a half years earlier, on January 1, 1863, but word had not yet reached Texas. On June 19, 1865, Granger read aloud General Order No. 3, which stated: The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive, Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.
It is celebrated on June 19, the day that the last slaves were freed in 1865. Juneteenth is also known as “Emancipation Day” or “Freedom Day.” It is estimated that there are over 10,000 Juneteenth celebrations held across the United States each year.
Juneteenth is now a federal holiday in the United States. Legislation establishing the holiday was passed by Congress on June 16, 2021, and signed into law by U.S. President Joe Biden the following day. Juneteenth had previously been established as a state holiday in Texas in 1980, with a number of other states later declaring it a state holiday or day of observance.
Juneteenth is a day to celebrate African American history and culture as well as a day to remember the struggles of the past.
Juneteenth is celebrated in many ways but often includes food, music, and historical reenactments. For many African Americans, it is a day to reflect on the long journey of their ancestors’ from slavery to freedom.
It is also a time to reflect on the progress that has been made since 1865, celebrate achievements, and to recommit to the fight for equality and justice for all.
What Is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day, and Jubilee Day, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The day was marked by celebrations across the country from former slaves. Today, Juneteenth is the day their descendants continue the tradition every 19th of June.
Juneteenth gets its name from combining “June” and “nineteenth,” the day that Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, bearing a message of freedom for the slaves there, writes NPR. “Upon his arrival, he read out General Order No. 3, informing the residents that slavery would no longer be tolerated and that all slaves were now free and would henceforth be treated as hired workers if they chose to remain on the plantations, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.”
The History Of Juneteenth
Two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, stating that all enslaved people in the states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” there were still slaves who were not granted freedom. The news didn’t get to the enslaved people of Texas until two and a half years later, when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865 to ensure that they would be freed. U.S. General Gordon Granger stood in Texas and read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
During this time in Texas, some slave owners even moved to the state, in hopes that they could keep their slaves.
“In a hurried re-enactment of the original Middle Passage, more than 150,000 slaves had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery,” says PBS. “As one former slave he quotes recalled, ‘It looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.’”
General Granger’s arrival in Galveston that June signaled freedom for Texas’ 250,000 enslaved people. Although freedom didn’t happen for everyone overnight, slavery was officially abolished that December with the creation of the 13th Amendment.
Juneteenth celebrations began the next year, originally called “Jubilee Day” or “June the 19th.” This celebration has since included music, barbecues, prayer services, and other activities on June 19th of every year.
The Significance of Juneteenth
Juneteenth, also known as “Emancipation Day” and “Freedom Day,” is an independence day much like the 4th of July. Recently, it has been recognized with growing attention as movements against police brutality and systemic racism called back to the holiday. While this is arguably one of the most important holidays, it was not observed as a national holiday in the United States until June 15th of last year, but it was a considered state holiday in 47 states (though that doesn’t mean it was given as a day off).
For some African Americans, Juneteenth is even more important now than ever before, as they are still fighting for equal rights in America. Juneteenth is a day for #BlackLivesMatter movements and encouragements of education.
Juneteenth As A Day of Remembrance, Celebration, And Hope
“Early celebrations involved prayer and family gatherings, and later included annual pilgrimages to Galveston by former enslaved people and their families,” according to Juneteenth.com.
Depending on your state, Juneteenth is often commemorated with parades, festivals, barbecues, and more. Parks are important for Juneteenth because of Emancipation Park in Texas, which was originally bought in 1872, specifically for Juneteenth celebrations.
For the first Juneteenth celebration, segregation made it difficult for African Americans to rent out spaces to celebrate, so parks were often the place to celebrate and be together.
Can I Celebrate Juneteenth?
Hey White people thinking how do I celebrate Juneteenth? This. This is how. https://t.co/uIoLZM4rTq
— Abby Norman (@abbynormansays) June 11, 2021
Juneteenth is a celebration for everyone, not just the African American community. Just like the 4th of July is celebrated, we must all come together to commemorate their freedom. People who wish to celebrate Juneteenth can do so by supporting Black-owned businesses, donating to civil rights charities, elevating Black voices, and using their privilege for good. Juneteenth is part of U.S. history, so taking the time to educate yourself about Black history by reading and listening to Black stories is a great way to stay informed, even past the one-day celebration of Juneteenth. This helps all of us to hold ourselves and others accountable against racist ideology and so much more. Juneteenth should not be the only day we celebrate and honor the African American community — every day we should make a conscious effort to celebrate Black lives by using our privilege to be allies.
So many beautiful stories, history lessons, and conversations await you from our African American community, so here are some book, podcast, and movie recommendations for a deeper dive into Juneteenth:
Did we miss anything? Keep the conversation going in the comments below!
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