This year’s annual commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States falls on Saturday June 19th, 2021. The celebration of Juneteenth began on June 19th, 1865 when Union Army Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform the slaves of their freedom. Although president Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, it took over two years for this information to travel to remote areas in Texas. The Emancipation Proclamation declared more than three million slaves in the confederate states to be free. Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980. Since then, forty-six states have come to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday.
Contrary to popular belief, Juneteenth is not the celebration of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, nor does it commemorate the 13th Amendment. Juneteenth strictly celebrates and remembers the day that thousands of slaves were made aware of their freedom. Juneteenth was named from the combination of the words June and nineteenth. Many people celebrate Juneteenth as Black Independence Day. The original observances included prayer meetings, singing, spiritual rituals, and wearing brand new clothes as a way of representing their newfound freedom. Today, typical celebrations consist of prayer and religious services, public speeches, educational events, family gatherings and feasts, festivals with music and dancing, and parades. Juneteenth is commonly celebrated outside the United States in other countries as a way to recognize and celebrate the culture and achievements of African Americans.
*The following paragraph might be triggering to some readers*
It is important to be aware of the significance of Juneteenth and its impact on American history. Juneteenth continues to be an important holiday in present day America because it represents how freedom and justice has always been delayed for people of color. Though America is a century and a half post-slavery, there are still considerable barriers that hinder the progress of achieving equality. Following the Civil War, African Americans faced lynching’s, imprisonment, and Jim Crow laws. We saw these acts of discrimination transform into mass incarceration, discriminatory housing policies, and corrupt legislations such as the “Stand Your Ground” laws. Today, oppression has taken form in acts of police violence and racial profiling incidents. Furthermore, “Juneteenth is a moment where we step back and try to understand the Civil War through the eyes of enslaved people,” a quote from Karlos Hill, a professor of African and African American studies at the University of Oklahoma. There is still a tremendous need for reform in order for people of color to have equal rights. Keep this in mind as you celebrate, Happy Juneteenth Day to all!
By, Victoria Reid, MHC Intern