What is Juneteenth?

By June 18, 2020 No Comments

This upcoming Friday, 6/19 is Juneteenth. Juneteenth.com describes the day as: “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.” 

What is Juneteenth?

Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, with the news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were now free. However, this was two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation did not affect Texans because there were so few Union troops to enforce it. When General Lee surrendered in April 1865 and General Granger’s regiment arrived, the forces were strong enough to overcome the resistance. 

When General Granger arrived, he read General Order Number 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. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

As Juneteenth.com explains, “The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former ‘masters’ – attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territories. The celebration of June 19th was coined ‘Juneteenth’ and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.”

How is Juneteenth Celebrated?

“A range of activities were provided to entertain the masses, many of which continue in tradition today. Rodeos, fishing, barbecuing and baseball are just a few of the typical Juneteenth activities you may witness today. Juneteenth almost always focused on education and self-improvement. Thus, often guest speakers are brought in and the elders are called upon to recount the events of the past. Prayer services were also a major part of these celebrations,” according to Juneteenth.com.

The New York Times explained, “while some celebrations take place among families in backyards where food is an integral element, some cities, like Atlanta and Washington, hold larger events, like parades and festivals with residents, local businesses and more.”

Juneteenth Today

Juneteenth was not recognized officially until 1979 when Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Since then, 41 states have followed suit naming it a state holiday or observance. 

“Today, Juneteenth is enjoying a phenomenal growth rate within communities and organizations throughout the country. Institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum and others have begun sponsoring Juneteenth-centered activities. In recent years, a number of local and national Juneteenth organizations have arisen to take their place alongside older organizations – all with the mission to promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African American history and culture.

Juneteenth today celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing.

The future of Juneteenth looks bright as the number of cities and states creating Juneteenth committees continues to increase. Respect and appreciation for all of our differences grow out of exposure and working together. Getting involved and supporting Juneteenth celebrations creates new bonds of friendship and understanding among us.” —  Juneteenth.com

You can sign the petition to make Juneteenth a National Holiday, here: https://www.change.org/p/united-states-congress-make-juneteenth-a-national-holiday-in-2020

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