This June 19th, I’m excited to celebrate the historic Juneteenth holiday with you all! In these trying times, our community revels in the revolution that is Black joy! I encourage everyone to participate in the Juneteenth holiday, and read on to learn more about the rich history of this day, and why it remains significant all these years later.
Journey to the Past
Juneteenth is known as the oldest celebration of the ending of chattel slavery in the United States. The end of the Civil War in 1862 brought an Executive order to end the enslavement of African descendants in America. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863, and free those who had been enslaved. While it was a monumental change for the South, the news didn’t spread as quickly as one would hope.
Although there are various theories as to why the new legislation failed to be shared with many Southerners, the most commonly accepted is the fact that there simply weren’t enough Union soldiers to enforce such an order. Due to the small number of Union soldiers on the ground in the southernmost portions of the US, it took over 2 and a half years for the new legislation to be enforced!
A New Beginning
It wasn’t until June 19th, 1865 that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas to share the news that the war had ended and that people who were enslaved were now free. This sent a shockwave through entire communities as the newly free Black population scrambled to figure out what to do. Some stayed where they were and continued to work, some set off for the North where racial tensions seemed less severe, and others sought to find lost family members who may have been sold off and taken to the surrounding states.
As the African descendants in America set off on their journey with their new freedom, many trials and tribulations stood in their way, however, their bravery to continue on a completely unknown path remains an absolutely outstanding moment in history. This June 19th I hope everyone can be made aware of the strength and courage of those who were freed.
For these people to have made it out of slavery was a feat we today cannot even fathom. For them to continue on, and build lives for themselves in a country that showed them incredible disdain and apprehension, to say the least, we simply cannot allow ourselves to forget how the past affects our futures as we Americans continue to build on this journey together.
Something to Celebrate
Throughout the years, Juneteenth and “Emancipation Day” have been celebrated in various ways. Some enjoy a barbecue with family, dedicated church services, and even huge parties like the “Juneteenth Jamboree held in 1951 in which over 70,000 Texans met to enjoy the day. In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize the holiday declaring it a “Day of Significance” and allowing government buildings to operate at half-staff so that Black staffers could partake in the festivities.
In 1997 Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, designed a Juneteenth Flag to create an easily recognizable symbol for the historic day and its celebrators. It depicts a “new star”, on the horizon, representing “A NEW FREEDOM, A NEW PEOPLE, A NEW STAR”, and with “The red, white, and blue colors communicate that the American Slaves and their descendants were all Americans”. The flag has been revised over time but maintains its striking imagery and important message.
As of 2017, only 3 states have yet to officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, however, due to the BlackLivesMatter protests of Summer 2020, Google has added the holiday to its official calendar available internationally.
I hope that all of the more recent exposure will enlighten those who were previously unaware of the holiday, and continue to inspire, and remind us that we can and will make it through anything as a resilient community! No matter what you decide to do on June 19th, I want everyone to join in on the celebration, and make time to remember the past as we work toward a better future today!
Originally posted on Medium.com, where you can read more from Ashaki Reid