It’s June 19 where I am, so I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the holiday known as Juneteenth in the United States.
Unfortunately, Juneteenth is rarely discussed overall, although it is a paid holiday in Texas and it is celebrated in 45 states.
In all honesty, I never knew about this holiday until I read about it in a newspaper after I had graduated high school. In history books, the Emancipation Proclamation was cited as marking the end of slavery. Nary was there a mention of Juneteenth.
What’s Juneteenth All About?
The short answer:
Juneteenth is commemorated to celebrate the end of slavery, “to appreciate the African American experience,” to fight against the evils of racism and slavery, and to promote multiculturalism.
Here’s the long answer:
Juneteenth exists to commemorate the June 19, 1865, announcement made by Major General Gordon Granger, a Union soldier, in Galveston, Texas. On that day, Texans were told that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were to be freed under General Order Number 3.
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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
The announcement came over two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official on January 1, 1863. (The Emancipation Proclamation was announced on September 22, 1862.)
Although Maj. Gen. Gordan Granger gave an official announcement to Texas pertaining to the end of slavery, blacks in Texas had to wait years before they were finally free.
How Did the Holiday Develop?
Early Juneteenth celebrations were marked by newly freed African Americans in the following years in the state of Texas. Many would make a yearly pilgrimage back to Galveston in order to participate in the celebrations.
The celebrations were marked by food and clothing. During early celebrations, participants were elaborately dressed in response to the strict laws governing what slaves could wear (most wore rags). Food is the most important part of the celebration. In most cases, Juneteenth celebrations are marked by barbeques.
At first, those commemorating Juneteenth had to contend with white business owners and landowners who would not allow them to celebrate in public spaces. African Americans moved their celebrations near rivers and lakes until they raised enough funds to purchase lands which became known as Emancipation Park in Houston and Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia.
Juneteenth gained popularity in various states until it began to fall out of favor during the Depression. Whereas bosses would normally allow their workers to commemorate the day, they would not let their workers take time off when the economy was failing.
Juneteenth enjoyed a resurgence during the 1950s and 1960s, as the Civil Rights Movement gained steam. Juneteenth buttons were shared during a civil rights campaign in Atlanta in the 1960s. Juneteenth celebrations were initiated by attendees of the Poor People’s March to Washington, D.C., which was organized by Rev. Ralph Abernathy.
On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas in large part due to the Al Edwards. He introduced legislation in his first term in office. Many others have pushed to make Juneteenth a national celebration.
How Is Juneteenth Celebrated Today?
Across the country, revelers celebrate Juneteenth in much the same way as it was originally celebrated, but many get started on the weekend. While those commemorating the day may not be ornately dressed, barbeques are still big on the day.
Also, as Juneteenth grew out of family gatherings, it sounds pretty similar to black family reunions. Studies have shown African Americans hold the most family reunions year to year.
According to Dr. Ione Vargus, the founder of the Family Reunion Institute , these reunions may have grown out of the African tradition, but there is definitely a link to slavery. As black slaves were freed, many ventured North but sought to gather with relatives every now and then. Juneteenth presented one such occasion early on.
“Al Edwards.” Ballotopedia. Web. Retrieved 19 June 2017. <https://ballotpedia.org/Al_Edwards>.
“FROM TEXAS; Important Orders by General Granger. Surrender of Senator Johnson of Arkansas. A SOATTERING OF REBEL OFFICIALS..” The New York Times. 7 July 1865. Web. Retrieved 19 June 2017. <http://www.nytimes.com/1865/07/07/news/texas-important-orders-general-granger-surrender-senator-johnson-arkansas.html>.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. “What Is Juneteenth?” The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. PBS. 2013. Web. Retrieved 19 June 2017. <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/>.
“History of Juneteenth.” Juneteenth.com. Web. Retrieved 19 June 2017. <http://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm>.
Johns, Chelcee. “Plan, Save & Create Memories: The Experts Talk Black Family Reunions.” Madamenoire. 13 July 2015. Web. <http://madamenoire.com/546593/experts-talk-black-family-reunions/>.
“The Spirit of Juneteenth. Juneteenth.com. Web. Retrieved 19 June 2017. <http://www.juneteenth.com/aboutjuneteenth.htm>.
USA Today Network. “What is Juneteenth? Day marks the end of slavery in the United States.” USA Today. 19 June 2017. Web. <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/06/19/what-juneteenth-day-marks-end-slavery-united-states/407927001/>.
Various. “Juneteenth.” Wikipedia. Last Updated 19 June 2017 (my time). Web. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juneteenth>.
Last Updated on June 19, 2021