The Importance of Juneteenth
On June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger led a band of troops to Galveston, Texas, to proclaim slavery abolished. It had been two months since the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army in Virginia and the end of the Civil War. Even longer since President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, it is regarded as the Emancipation Day for Black Americans.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, also called "Freedom Day," is a holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, observed on June 19th. It is officially called "Juneteenth National Independence Day."
This holiday is known as "America’s Second Independence Day." It is the longest-running African-American celebration, with annual celebrations on June 19th in different parts of the country dating back to 1866. The festival originated in Texas, where slaves were set free under the conditions of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation of the same date in 1865, following the Civil War.
The name "Juneteenth" is a combination of two words: "June" and "nineteenth."
Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday on June 17th, 2021, after president Joe Biden signed the bill passed by Congress.
The History of Juneteenth
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, declaring that all enslaved individuals in Confederate states fighting the Union "will be then, thenceforward, and forever free."
Many of whom were Black, Union soldiers marched onto plantations and through southern communities, reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and spreading the gospel of freedom throughout the Confederate States. Slavery was finally abolished in the United States only after the 13th Amendment.
However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately release every slave. The decree only extended to Confederate-controlled territory, not slave-holding border states or rebel territories already under Union control. As Northern troops marched into Confederate territory, many slaves hid behind union lines
On June 19th, 1865, two years after the proclamation, 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, bringing freedom under general order no. 3. By executive edict, the state’s more than 250,000 enslaved Black people were set free, according to the army.
Slavery had persisted in Texas for longer because there had been no large-scale conflict or considerable presence of Union forces. Many enslavers from outside Texas had relocated to the Lone Star State, seeing it as a secure haven for slavery.
Celebrating Juneteenth Over the Years
The celebration of Juneteenth was a time for consoling one another in the African-American communities, praying, and assembling remaining family members. Many former slaves and descendants returned to Galveston on this occasion each year.
Outside of the African American community, there was little interest in participating in the celebrations in the early years. Outward resistance was shown in certain circumstances by prohibiting the use of public property for the celebrations.
Freedmen mainly held celebrations at churches or in rural regions near rivers and creeks where they could enjoy extra activities such as fishing, horseback riding, and barbecues.
The land was eventually provided for these celebrations when African Americans became landowners.
Rev. Jack Yates orchestrated one of the earliest documented land acquisitions in the name of Juneteenth. This fund-raising campaign netted $1,000 and resulted in the acquisition of Houston’s Emancipation Park. Booker T. Washington Park, the Juneteenth celebration location in 1898, was purchased by the local Juneteenth organization in Mexica.
Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas on January 1st, 1980, because of the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state representative. It became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday
Juneteenth is a state holiday or a ceremonial holiday in 47 of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota are the only three states that do not observe Juneteenth.
Opal Lee, a former teacher and lifetime activist, walked 1,400 miles from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., in 2016. At the age of 89, she kept fighting for Juneteenth to be recognized as a national holiday, marking the end of slavery.
Why Is It Important?
It highlights how Black people’s liberation has been delayed. It is also a reminder that freedom and racial equality have always been a hard-fought war for Black Americans. This battle continues to this day.
It should be commemorated as the day when all Americans became liberated. It should be a day to pause and consider what steps have been taken to expand this freedom, learn, and evolve as a nation and people.
Commemoration of the Jubilee day is also important because it reminds people that even after slaves became free, there was still oppression and a century of Jim Crow. It is vital because it enshrines the name of Black activists like Martin Luther King Jr., who were prominent leaders in the civil rights movement.
The Symbols of Juneteenth
The flag, which has the same colors as the American flag, is the most prominent symbol of Juneteenth. It represents the following:
- The Arc - A new vision for Black Americans, with new prospects and hopeful futures.
- The Star - The freedom of every Black American in all 50 states and the Lone Star State (where Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1865).
- The Burst - Is designed to resemble a nova, or new Star, representing a fresh start for everyone.
In 2007, the inaugural Juneteenth (June 19th) was added to the flag.
How To Celebrate on Juneteenth
This festival can be celebrated in a variety of ways. For some, it’s taking the day off work, eating barbecue, firing fireworks, meeting at a picnic, and sipping crimson cocktails, a ritual that remembers the blood poured by African-Americans.
Parades and events are carried out to celebrate and educate people about African American history.
Others choose to purchase exclusively at Black-owned businesses, educate themselves by sharing history, learning about significant Black characters or use their voices to express love.
Juneteenth should be talked about more. There is much about what it represents and what it can stand for that is yet to be untold.
As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement, “Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past, but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution.”