On the "Other" Independence Day: Juneteenth
As spring turns into summer, many Americans are planning to celebrate an important holiday.
Not Independence Day (July 4th).
Not Midsomer Day (Summer Solstice).
The big holiday that is approaching is Juneteenth.
Yet many people--Americans and non-Americans alike--have never heard of this important holiday.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth falls on June 19th. It was the day in 1865 on which the enslaved Black people in America (particularly in Texas) were freed from slavery. It is the oldest nationally celebrated holiday commemorating the end to slavery.
This is the story. In April 1865, the Confederate army (led by General Robert E. Lee) surrendered to the Union army, bringing an end to the Civil War. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon E. Granger with his union regiment marched into the town square in Galveston, Texas, and read the following order:
"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 free laborer."
In other words, the enslaved people were freed! Wow.
At this point, you might be thinking: “I thought that the enslaved people had already been freed in 1863 by the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Great point. (I have a lot to say about the Emancipation Proclamation but I'll save it for another time.) However, the Emancipation Proclamation had little practical impact on the enslaved population in Texas because there were not sufficient troops to enforce Lincoln’s Executive Order. So, the enslaved people remained enslaved for the next two and a half years until the end of the Civil War.
There are, of course, other stories to explain this 30-month delay in the announcement. One story is that the messenger was killed on his way to deliver the news in Texas. (Sounds like a story from ancient Greece!) Another explanation was that the enslavers deliberately withheld this information to keep their enslaved population. And another related story was that the Union army withheld the information to allow the southern planters to have one more harvest before losing their involuntary labor force.
Whatever the reason for the delay, on June 19, 1865, the enslaved population of Texas was freed.
The Juneteenth holiday was born!
After the proclamation, African Americans celebrated Juneteenth as an emancipation day. There were barbecues, prayer meetings, rodeos and many types of parties. People dressed in their best clothes. Families and communities would organize celebrations.
Yet Juneteenth remained a day commemorated primarily by African Americans.
Then, in 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas. It marked the first emancipation holiday recognized by any state in the United States. Today, it is celebrated in many states as Juneteenth, Black Family Day, Emancipation Day or Freedom Day.
How to celebrate Juneteenth?
Today, Juneteenth celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. It celebrates the endurance and strength of the African American family unit, the continuation of African American culture and the great contributions and achievements of African Americans to their communities, their country, and the world.
Many organizations, churches and communities organize barbecues, lectures, parties and discussions. Signs are displayed, music is played, food is served and people are united in celebrating the African American spirit.
There are many ways to celebrate in the community, in the home environment and even in the workplace.
Do you want some great ideas for celebrating Juneteenth? Click here!
Remember to cherish the freedom that we enjoy every day--and to work for the freedom of all oppressed people.