What is Juneteenth and why it matters

By Julia Warren-Simpson

 

What does Juneteenth celebrate?

Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States, which took place in June 19th, 1865. On this day, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX and he was the first to announce the defeat of the Confederacy and freedom of all slaves. Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, many slave owners in Confederate states fled to Texas with their slaves, with more than 150,000 slaves heading west, amounting to 250,000 slaves in Texas by the time of Granger’s announcement. General Order No. 3 came two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in the United States.

 

Why is Juneteenth important?

Juneteenth’s celebration was a moment when families that were separated due to slavery could gather again and reunite. During this holiday, many former slaves and their descendants made an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston to celebrate the end of slavery. The largest celebrations of Juneteenth are held in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and across the state of Texas. 

 

History of the Holiday

Juneteenth faced countless obstacles including the Jim Crow laws, those who attempted to glorify the past cruelties and white people forbidding blacks from using public property for Juneteenth celebrations. Black people gathered near rivers and lakes, eventually raising $800 to buy 10 acres of land which they called Emancipation Park, and later the Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia. 

 

Later, after the racial segregation became more prominent with more laws, more lynching occurring, the Juneteenth celebrations began to diminish in size and efforts, as there was little freedom to be celebrated. However, during the Civil Rights’ Movement of the 50’s and 60’s, the Poor People’s March was held on June 19, 1968, causing the resurgence of the celebration. In 1979, Texas made Juneteenth an official holiday, the first state to do so. 

 

Juneteenth in Modern Times

Currently, 47 US States and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. The celebrations continue going on, showing the true perseverance in the fight for freedom. As Ralph Ellison elicits in his posthumous novel ‘Juneteenth’, by choosing to celebrate the very last place in the South that freedom was gained, we can remember that initial promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and the battle that we continue fighting to achieve it. 

 

How You Can Celebrate Juneteenth

In the past, the purpose of observing this holiday was to gather lost family, measure the progression of freedom, and allow for self-reflection and upliftment. The celebrations included readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, religious sermons, the preservation of slave foods (barbeque and strawberry soda) and incorporating new games and traditions such as rodeos. Celebrants also dressed in their best clothes, no matter how poor.

In light of the health crisis, we’ve gathered a list of simple activities that you can do at home to spread awareness of the Black Lives Matter Movement and celebrate 155 years of freedom:

  • Prepare a traditional Juneteenth meal such as barbeque with strawberry soda and use this time to speak with your family and children about the meaning of the holiday and to encourage self-reflection.
  • Hold a reading session with your family and read them the Emancipation Proclamation and talk about what Juneteenth really means.
  • Take some time to learn more about the holiday so that you can give yourself more awareness before spreading that awareness to others. 
  • Have your younger kids draw what freedom looks like to them and have a discussion about freedom with everyone in your home.

However you decide to celebrate this holiday, remember that you are joined by millions of Americans in celebrating freedom and equality!

 

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