Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, is an annual holiday in the United States that commemorates the end of slavery in the country.
It is celebrated on June 19th and is recognized as a state holiday or observance in most states. Juneteenth marks the day when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, and announced that the Civil War had ended, and that all slaves in the state were now free. This announcement came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had declared that all slaves in Confederate-held territory were to be freed.
Juneteenth is a day to celebrate African American freedom and achievement, as well as to reflect on the struggles and sacrifices made by those who fought for freedom and equal rights. It is a time for people to come together to celebrate African American culture, music, food, and history.
History of Juneteenth
Juneteenth has its roots in Texas and is often referred to as the “Emancipation Day of Texas”. It commemorates the announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, which declared that all slaves in Texas were free.
The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, but it did not immediately free all slaves. The news of the proclamation spread slowly throughout the South, and in Texas, where the Civil War had minimal impact, many slaveholders had migrated with their slaves to avoid enforcement of the proclamation. The arrival of Union troops in Galveston on June 19, 1865, marked the first time that the Emancipation Proclamation had been enforced in Texas and led to the liberation of over 250,000 enslaved people.
After the announcement of General Order No. 3, African Americans in Texas began to celebrate their newfound freedom on June 19th, which became known as “Juneteenth”. The holiday spread to other parts of the country as African Americans migrated to other states, and by the early 20th century, it had become a symbol of freedom and a way to celebrate African American culture and achievements.
Juneteenth was officially recognized as a state holiday or observance in most states, and efforts have been made to make it a federal holiday. In 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday after President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.
Here is a timeline of significant events related to Juneteenth:
- January 1, 1863: President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation, which declares that all slaves in Confederate-held territory are to be freed.
- April 9, 1865: Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders, effectively ending the Civil War.
- June 19, 1865: Union General Gordon Granger arrives in Galveston, Texas, and announces General Order No. 3, which declares that all slaves in Texas are free.
- 1866: African Americans in Texas begin to celebrate June 19th as “Juneteenth” to commemorate their freedom.
- Late 1800s-early 1900s: Juneteenth celebrations spread to other states as African Americans migrate throughout the country.
- 1979: Texas becomes the first state to make Juneteenth an official state holiday.
- 1997: Congress establishes the first National Juneteenth Observance, encouraging states and local communities to recognize Juneteenth as a day of observance.
- 2020: Juneteenth gains increased attention amid protests against police brutality and racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd.
- June 17, 2021: The Senate unanimously passes a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
- June 18, 2021: The House of Representatives passes the bill, and President Joe Biden signs it into law on June 17th, making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
How To Observe Juneteenth
There are several ways to observe Juneteenth:
- Learn about the history: Take the time to learn about the history of Juneteenth and the significance of the holiday. Read books, watch documentaries, or attend local events to gain a deeper understanding of the holiday.
- Attend events: Many communities host Juneteenth events, such as parades, concerts, and festivals. Attend these events to celebrate African American culture and history and to show support for the community.
- Support black-owned businesses: Make an effort to support black-owned businesses on Juneteenth, such as restaurants, shops, and vendors at local events.
- Reflect and honor: Take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices and struggles of those who fought for freedom and equal rights, and honor their legacy by advocating for social justice and equality.
- Celebrate with friends and family: Gather with friends and family to celebrate Juneteenth with food, music, and activities that highlight African American culture and history.
- Educate others: Share your knowledge and understanding of Juneteenth with others, especially those who may not be familiar with the holiday. Spread awareness and help to promote the celebration of Juneteenth.
Why Juneteenth is Important
Juneteenth is an important holiday because it commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and celebrates the liberation of African Americans from the horrors of slavery. It is a day to reflect on the sacrifices and struggles of those who fought for freedom and equal rights.
Juneteenth is also important because it is a day to celebrate African American culture, history, and achievements. It is an opportunity to recognize the contributions of African Americans to the development of the United States and to honor their resilience and perseverance in the face of oppression and adversity.
In addition, Juneteenth serves as a reminder that the struggle for civil rights and social justice is ongoing. The holiday reminds us that while progress has been made, there is still work to be done to ensure that all Americans have equal rights and opportunities.
Juneteenth has become increasingly significant in recent years, as the United States continues to grapple with issues of systemic racism and police brutality. The holiday provides an opportunity for people of all races and backgrounds to come together to reflect on the past, celebrate the present, and work towards a better future.
Here are some activities you can do to celebrate Juneteenth:
- Attend a Juneteenth event: Look for local parades, festivals, or other events celebrating Juneteenth in your area. Participate in the activities and learn more about the holiday and its history.
- Host a backyard BBQ or potluck: Juneteenth is often celebrated with food and drinks. Host a backyard BBQ or potluck and include traditional African American dishes like BBQ, sweet potato pie, collard greens, or watermelon.
- Watch a movie or documentary: Choose a movie or documentary that highlights African American culture, history, or civil rights. Some examples are “Selma,” “When They See Us,” or “13th.”
- Read books by black authors: Choose a book by a black author to read and discuss with friends or family. Some suggestions are “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker, “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, or “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
- Attend a cultural event: Check out a cultural event in your community, such as a concert, dance performance, or art exhibit, that celebrates African American culture.
- Volunteer or donate to a local organization: Look for local organizations that support the African American community and donate your time or resources to support their work.
Remember, the most important thing is to honor and celebrate the history and achievements of African Americans and reflect on the ongoing fight for social justice and equality.