Juneteenth has always been a date steeped in both celebration of the liberation of black slaves and the hard reality of our collective national history. Because of recent events, this year, Juneteenth will represent–for many–a renewed commitment to fighting for social rights in America.
Others of us might be celebrating for the first time! While it's a good thing that we celebrate, we need to acknowledge that we all have a long way to go.
We thought it would be a good idea to start by going over some background for this timely holiday!
Juneteenth (or 'June Nineteenth') is an American holiday which has gone by a few other names in the past, including Freedom Day and Jubilee Day. It marks the day that the Emancipation Proclamation was read to the last Confederate State–effectively freeing the last still-enslaved persons in the United States.
On June 19th, 1865, the Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with some very important news: The war was won, and the enslaved were now free.
History buffs might notice a bit of a discrepancy: Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was signed into effect on January 1st, 1863. Why the two-and-a-half-year delay?
There are a few different theories as to why the news didn't effectively reach Texas during that time, but the end result is clear: That June 19th, enough Union troops arrived in Texas to enforce Lincoln's words. That June 19th, words which had been written suddenly turned into action. That June 19th, slaves weren't freed on paper; they were freed in actuality.
There have been a few different versions of Juneteenth celebrations over the years.
The first few Juneteenths brought with them activities such as barbecuing, baseball, fishing and rodeos to mark the momentous occasion. These were mainly based in Texas out of small church communities. In the 1920's and 30's, the celebration became more widespread through the South.
By the 1960's and the Civil Rights Movement, the celebration focused more on the civil rights of Black people after the war. A decade later, the holiday was marked by highlighting the legacy, history, and arts of the Black community.
Now, Juneteenth is a widespread (though not officially recognized–yet) holiday. However, the roots of why we celebrate are still rooted in 1865.
Immediately after the first Juneteenth, legions of newly-freed Black Americans left their plantations in search of a better life. Many travelled North to be with family, or to begin new lives in new regions. They quickly realized that the challenges of beginning a new status quo as equal citizens in America was going to be far from easy. Their descendants and heirs still fight for that better life today.
It's up to each of us, no matter our skin tone, financial status, previous actions or social media followers, to help continue and win the battle for equity, fairness, inclusivity and universal representation.
Today, it's important that we celebrate the achievements of the past. It's important that we support our Black friends and family as they process everything that's happening (now, and over the past few centuries).
It's also important that we take real action, on holidays AND on regular days, to help build a world that is safe and fair for all. We've talked a little bit in previous posts about how to support our Black community members, but here are a few more Juneteenth-themed ideas:
Happy Juneteenth, everyone! We're excited to celebrate this meaningful holiday with as much awareness and action as we can. 💪🏿💪🏾 💫 Unfortunately, Juneteenth is STILL not a nationally-recognized holiday, but you can sign this Next Gen America petition to make it one!
What are you going to do to celebrate???