Juneteenth carries a rich historical legacy. Although the Emancipation Proclamation stated “all shall be free”, it only applied to slaves in the Confederacy and would have no constitutional basis after the Civil War ended. It would take President Lincoln and his allies in congress two more years of hard work to pass the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery in the United States. Both the Proclamation and the Amendment were necessary to grant freedom to African Americans, but it would still take six more months before this news reached certain parts of the country. It was on June 19th, 1865, that General Gordon Grander arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce both the end of the Civil War and slavery. Since liberation was a staggered process in different areas, this date, shortened to Juneteenth, became a symbolic date representing African American freedom.
Texas held the very first Juneteenth celebration as a holiday on June 16th, 1866. Former enslaved people who celebrated their first Juneteenth were seen as insurrectionists. Segregation laws forbade black people from using any public spaces, but they stayed determined to commemorate their newfound freedom. The festivities were set up by rivers and lakes where many could gather. The Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud. There were parades, rodeos, games, songs, and people came dressed in their fanciest clothes. Barbecue, wine, watermelon, and strawberry pie were all served – the plethora of red honoring the blood that was spilt during slavery.
The first Juneteenth marks the true beginning of the end of slavery in America. Today, it commemorates the knowledge that slavery has ended. Juneteenth gives us a sense of encouragement and inspiration to continue standing up for our communities, our families, and our freedom. As it becomes more popular it encourages us to look back and learn more about African American history. It reminds us as a nation of the progress we’ve made and the work that still lies ahead.
On June 17th, 2021, Juneteenth officially became a national holiday. Like the Fourth of July that celebrates America’s freedom from Great Britain, Juneteenth celebrates the universal individual freedom for all.
I invite you to embrace the celebration of Juneteenth this year with your loved ones and community. It represents such a historical moment in American history…and a cherished opportunity for us to join together as one.
From Tina, Kara and myself, we wish you and yours a joyous Juneteenth!