Every year, June 19 is celebrated as Juneteenth, a public federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. It is also known as emancipation day, freedom day, and black Independence Day. Two words, ‘June’ and ‘Nineteenth’ are combined to form ‘juneteenth’, representing the day it is celebrated on.
What is the history of Juneteenth?
One of the cruelest practices practiced in the African-American region was slavery. Under this, one human being owns another human being, known as ‘slave’ and treating them as property. Slaves were denied the most basic human rights. Following their will or doing whatever they wanted was not something they could do. Largely, American confederates used to buy Africans from African labor markets and enslave them. In 1619, the United States confederates brought the first enslaved Africans to Jamestown, Virginia. Unfortunately, the practice continued to increase in the following years.
Juneteenth marks the day when slavery officially ended in Texas. In the year 1863, amidst the American civil war, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed to free more than 3 million slaves in the country. However, this news did not reach anybody for the next two years due to a lack of communication channels. Several American confederates also denied freeing their slaves.
Emancipation of proclamation
The then-president Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary emancipation proclamation stating all the slaves in the Confederates States of America in rebellion were freed on September 22, 1862. It became effective on January 1, 1863, but the news did not reach anyone due to inconvenient communication channels.
June 19, 1865, marks the day when General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, Texas to take command over more than 2,000 soldiers. The texas historical commission, along with Galveston Historical foundation stated that his troops marched throughout the city, reading the proclamation.
On the other hand, slaveholders migrated from Eastern states to Texas to escape the war and destruction. It wasn’t until two years later, on June 19, 1865, when the country was absolutely free from slavery. The day originally originated in Galveston, Texas.
Since then, the whole country proudly celebrates June 19 as Juneteenth or freedom day every year. On the same day, a year later, the day was first celebrated as ‘Jubilee day’.
Why is Juneteenth so important?
Juneteenth is a public federal holiday in the United States. It is the ‘longest-running African-American holiday’, and America’s second Independence Day. It marks the day when General Gordon Granger arrived and announced that all the slaves are free now.
When a 300-year long tradition comes to an end, it is natural to feel happiness, shock, surprise, and difference all at once. Suddenly realizing that you can now live life on your terms and having a choice in everything, can be a little overwhelming. This was exactly how the slaves felt after hearing the news. However, even after being freed, some continued to work for their former masters. There can be several reasons behind this such as obligation to be loyal or being helpless. Education or the opportunity to be self-dependent was not provided to the slaves. They were largely dependent on their masters to provide them with daily bread, in return for their services. The rest of them flew away from their past and settled somewhere else to begin a new life.
Despite the overwhelming flow of emotions, there was an intense need among the slaves to celebrate the special occasion. People organized several parties, prayers, and barbeques to celebrate. Usually, masters did not allow their slaves to do all these activities. They also attended the event and celebrated along with millions of others. Celebratory traditions included public readings of the emancipation proclamation and singing motivational songs such as “Lift every voice and sing”.
In 1872, seven years later from the emancipation, the happiness and relief never subsided. To celebrate their independence day, a group of 10 black ministers raised a sufficient amount to buy ten acres of land in Texas. The ten acres of land is now converted into a park named ’emancipation park’. It represents a safe place, largely dedicated to celebrating the day on large scale.
According to the historian Mitch Kachun, the following celebrations had three goals, “to celebrate, to educate, and to agitate.” People celebrate the day like any other festival. People got ready in their best pieces of clothing, organized large meals, and did fun activities. The elder former slaves from all over the country also visited the Galveston as a pilgrimage site. The celebrations also include several lectures on African-American history. The main purpose of the lecture is to educate the younger generation about their traditions. This is the day of soul food and huge celebrations.
On June 15, 2021, the US Senate unanimously approved to make the bill making Juneteenth a legal public holiday. Since the adoption of Martin Luther King Jr. day in 1983, it is the first time a new federal holiday in the country is created. The country proudly celebrates the day on June 19. The celebrations include music, food, fun, prayers, marches, and other activities. In the year 2021, we hope people fondly remembered George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and countless other black Americans who lost their lives to racial segregation.
“But we’ll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me”, this line from the play ‘Hamlet’ is the epitome of why Juneteenth is important and why should it be acknowledged. Juneteenth does not only celebrate our freedom from slavery, but it also recognizes the achievements and accomplishments of our efforts.