Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, or the Juneteenth Independence Day, is a holiday celebrated in the United States remembering the end of slavery. The holiday is celebrated every year on June 19. The holiday marks the day when the American federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to take federal control of the state and guarantee that all enslaved black people were set free. The troops’ reached Galveston almost two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed.
The holiday is viewed as the longest-running African American holiday in the USA. To add more significance to the day, current president Joe Biden made Juneteenth an official on June 17, 2021. The Juneteenth commemoration is on the anniversary of the June 19, 1865 declaration of General Order 3. The declaration was made by Union Army General Gordon Granger, announcing and imposing the freedom of all enslaved black people in Texas. Texas was the last state of the Confederacy that still allowed institutional slavery.
Brief History of Juneteenth
Many American historians confirm that Juneteenth is the longest-running nationally celebrated commemoration. The holiday celebrated the official abolishment of slavery in the United States in 1865. In its early years, the Juneteenth had very little interest and attention outside the African American community.
Historians cite that the celebration was initially celebrated in Texas only. The former slaves in the state celebrated their freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed over two years before learning about it. The holiday was celebrated with prayer meetings among the communities, songs of thanksgiving, food, and activities.
Few other people joined in the participation in the celebrations. In some severe cases, there was outward and aggressive resistance exhibited by the white majority. They usually barred the use of public spaces to host the festivities. As a result, black Americans resorted to keeping the celebrations out in rural areas close to rivers and creeks. These provided ample, uninterrupted space with additional activities such as barbecues, fishing, and horseback riding. Also, churchyards proved to be famous for these celebrations. As time progressed and African Americans started to own land and earn money, members of the (African American) community started to donate land and open up spaces to celebrate the day.
One of the major highlights of the Juneteenth celebrations happened in 1872 when a group of African-American ministers and businessmen in Houston bought about 10 acres of land and built the Emancipation Park. Space was to be used to host the city’s annual Juneteenth commemorations. Celebrants wore new and bright clothes as a symbol of their newfound freedom. As time passed, other African Americans in other states also started participating in the celebrations. This is the current tradition of celebrating that has made Juneteenth an annual tradition.
When Is Juneteenth in 2021?
Juneteenth in 2021 was commemorated on Saturday, June 19. The celebrations were held on the back of several cases of abuse of members of the African American community. Over the past few years, there have been nationwide protests over police brutality and shooting of black Americans. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many other Black Americans gave the day a renewed interest and energy in how the day is celebrated. Organizations within the black American community have taken the day to promote the need for equality and social justice. The celebration continues to have new meanings and be a platform to bring to the forefront issues affecting African American society.
The History of Juneteenth
Historians cite that starting point of slavery in America was in 1619 when the 1st batch of slaves landed in Jamestown, Virginia. For generations to come and through the 17th and 18th centuries, enslaved Africans labored mainly on the southern coast’s tobacco, rice, and indigo farms. These plantations stretched from the Chesapeake Bay to Georgia. After the American Revolution, many of the states, especially those in the North – where slavery was quite insignificant to the farming economy—began to link the subjugation of slaves to their oppression by the British monarch. This resulted in them calling for the end to slavery.
Following President Abraham Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863, slavery was officially outlawed in Texas and all of the member states of the original Confederacy. Federal troops were deployed to ensure this news reached all corners of the new America. However, as earlier mentioned, the federal troops arrived in Texas some two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed. Varying accounts have been presented to try and explain why news of the abolition of slavery reached Texas so late. One account mentions that the envoy tasked with delivering the news was assassinated on his journey. Other historians believe that news on the Emancipation Proclamation was intentionally withheld by the slave owners in Texas and much of the south. This was done to go about their business without any interruptions and keep the free labor force working on the plantations. Historians also state that until 1865, Texas was a stronghold of the Confederate State, so President Lincoln’s declaration on the abolishment of slavery could not have been enforced until Robert E. Lee gave in and surrendered to the Union Army and they took control of the state.
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Why is Juneteenth Important?
For African Americans all over, Juneteenth is seen as a symbol of defeating the insurmountable odds and upholding the core values of the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. With each generation of African American children, essential lessons are passed down on the dark truth about American history. These lessons ensure that the black American voice continues to be heard and fight for oppressed people. This will contribute to a stronger and tolerant America because it is a truthful America that confronts events that happened in the past.
Why Do People Love to Celebrate This Day?
Juneteenth is arguably the most important celebration in African American history. It holds an important place in African American history and American history since it was the start of the journey towards equality. The day presents a unique opportunity to teach anyone, whether American or not, the events that have shaped the African American society.
How to Observe Juneteenth
Since the start of the Juneteenth celebrations – over one and a half centuries ago -a variety of activities have been provided to entertain those celebrating. As part of the tradition, many of these activities are still available today. Juneteenth almost always focused on educating the new generation of African Americans and non-blacks. It also focuses on self-improvement and creating a society that acknowledges its history. To that effect, guest speakers, historians, and other people of note are invited in. The community elders are given the platform to narrate and relive the events of the past. Prayer services have also remained a strong pillar of the celebrations. In some modern celebrations, those who were slaves and their descendants make an annual pilgrimage back to where it all started; Galveston.
Today, Juneteenth celebrations enjoy a remarkable growth rate and coverage within all American communities and even abroad. Organizations throughout the country and institutions of note (both old and new) have started sponsoring Juneteenth-centered events and activities. Over the past few years, several local and national organizations focused on Juneteenth have come up to take their place and play a part in these celebrations, promoting, cultivating, and growing knowledge and appreciation of African American culture and history in the USA. The future of Juneteenth celebrations will only grow as the number of cities and states forming Juneteenth committees continues to increase. Currently, forty-nine states have made June 19 a special day of commemoration.
Is Juneteenth a Worldwide National Holiday?
Despite its growing popularity outside of America, the day is only an American federal holiday. However, this shouldn’t stop anyone from learning the history behind the day and why it’s important to all Americans, especially those who had enslaved ancestors. The day is celebrated outside of America, though it’s only celebrated on a much smaller scale. Several organizations, especially from countries that lost millions of people to slavery, have also incorporated the day into their activities. They use it to acknowledge the end of slavery and remember the ancestors they lost to the slave trade. It’s also a day to honor the culture and accomplishments of African Americans.
Juneteenth celebrations will always be important for the history of America. The day will continue providing much-needed education and a platform to openly discuss any socio-political issues affecting the black community and find ways to achieve equality. With the day being made an official federal holiday, this will help the day gain traction and grow over the coming years, both in America and abroad.