Recently, there has been talk of a prevalent holiday in the African American community known as Juneteenth. While it has always been an important celebrated holiday in my household it has been brought to my attention that many have not heard of the holiday and don’t understand it’s significance. Since the day is upon us I wanted to take time to shed light on this wonderful holiday!
Juneteenth celebrates the official end of slavery as we know it in terms of the transatlantic slave trade. Most people believed that slavery ended with President Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st in 1863. This is particularly true! However, the civil war lasted for an additional two years after the signing. Therefore slavery in the confederacy continued until the war ended on April 9th in 1865. However, the news of their freedom was often withheld from enslaved people. On June 19th, 1865, 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 2 months after the end of the Civil War, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas where the last slaves were officially freed from bondage. There are many speculations on why it took Texas so long to receive the executive order. Some say a messenger was murdered by confederate soldiers on his way to Texas. Others believe that confederate farm owners purposefully withheld the information so they could benefit from one more cotton harvest. Regardless of why it took so long, when the news of freedom came many enslaved African Americans left plantations to find other family members in the south or travel to the north for better opportunities. Settling into these new areas began the journey of black citizens in the United States. The black community uses this day to gather, celebrate, and show appreciation for our ancestors who fought for our freedom and created the foundation for our place in America today. We see Juneteenth as an independence day for our community because even though America became free in 1776, our people weren’t given the same freedom until 89 years later.
Juneteenth is celebrated differently across many households. Traditionally Juneteenth is highlighted with activities such as fishing, baseball, and barbecuing. The day is also used to focus on education as well as a day of self-improvement. Since enslaved Americans were prevented from reading, taking the day to educate and improve oneself is a reminder of our freedom. Cuisine-wise it differs across families however, and everyone typically makes what they classify as a special dish that usually involves some kind of smoke when cooking. It is believed that if there is smoke while preparing the meal then our ancestors are able to participate in our celebration by smelling the aromas of the food in the air. While there is no official dress associated with Juneteenth, at the beginning of this holiday many formerly enslaved people would throw their ragged clothes into rivers and would dawn new fancy clothes that they could now afford to wear. Today many families dress up on Juneteenth as a reminder of our freedom to do so.
Now many of you are probably wondering why have you never heard about this holiday before? Well, in the early years, Juneteenth celebration did not extend outside of the black community. The holiday was often met with resistance. When African Americans weren’t landowners, spaces refused to rent to them for Juneteenth, and because of this most of the festivities would take place outside of town in rural areas or churches. Another challenge faced by the black community was getting Juneteenth off. In the Jim Crow South, many racist bosses use to make African Americans work overtime on June 19th with less pay. This made attendance at these events decline over time. Other economic and cultural circumstances led to the declined celebration of Juneteenth in the early 1900s. As society moved away from homeschool education, the public schooling system focused mainly on Lincoln’s executive order. Little to nothing of the events that created Juneteenth was mentioned in the US History curriculum. When the Great Depression forced African Americans into the city for work, fewer bosses were likely to give off for this holiday, meaning unless June 19th fell on a weekend it was rarely celebrated. With July 4th already established as an independence day and patriotism rising due to World War 1, Juneteenth became a forgotten holiday. The holiday made a resurgence during the Civil Rights Movement with many young African Americans relating to their ancestors with feeling a lack of freedom due to the American government. Since then Juneteenth has continued to grow and flourish in black communities across the US. Today it has made national headlines as we strive to make Juneteenth a federal holiday so that it will never be forgotten again.
Some of my fondest memories come from celebrating Juneteenth. It has always been a day of fun, pride, and love. I would learn how to cook family recipes, listen to stories from my grandmother about the civil rights movement, play with my cousins, and have an opportunity to share with my family why I’m thankful to be African American. My grandmother would always say that her favorite part of this holiday is to be able to see how small decisions she made in her life impacted how I can live mine today. To me, it has always been a reminder of African American culture, an opportunity to humble and educate myself through gratitude. “Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. That’s why we need this holiday.” – Al Edwards, Texas Democratic Representative.
I am excited that so many are interested in a holiday so near and dear to my heart. I hope that I have been able to shine a light on the importance of this holiday to America and the black community. I have included links below to petitions to make Juneteenth a national holiday if you feel inclined to sign, as well as other websites that provide wonderful information on the holiday, celebration gatherings and educational tools for your Juneteenth self-improvement. Happy Juneteenth everyone! Thank you to all those who have fought and sacrificed for black rights and freedom!
Featured thumbnail image: Mace, Jody. Cary’s First Juneteenth Celebration This Year on June 15, Triangle On the Cheap, 2019.