What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is celebrated on June 19th of every year. This important holiday commemorates the day in 1865 that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with word that the Civil War was over and all previously enslaved people were now free.
This date is historic because, while the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863 by President Lincoln, it was not enforced in places like Texas because the Proclamation actually only applied to Confederate states, not slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control. Texas saw little fighting during the war and was not significantly occupied by Union troops. This means that enslaved people in Texas were forced to endure another two and a half years of slavery, despite technically being freed by the proclamation.
In 1865, Generals Lee and Gordon finally garnered enough support to overthrow the resistance in Texas and mandate that the enslaved people be freed. In short, Juneteenth celebrates the ending of chattel slavery in United States. It’s important to note, though that chattel slavery was not officially ended nationwide until the 13th Amendment was passed in December of 1865.
It’s also important to note that the 13th Amendment only abolished chattel slavery; slavery is still technically legal in the United States due to a loophole in the 13th Amendment. Slavery or servitude can actually be enforced on someone as punishment for a crime for which they have been convicted. Many scholars link this exception clause to the rise of the prison industrial complex in the United States, which incarcerates Black people at significantly higher rates than white people.
The Cultural History of Juneteenth
Juneteenth’s cultural history is rich and significant, with Black communities celebrating this historic day through a variety of activities. Rodeos, fishing, barbecuing and baseball are all traditional Juneteenth pursuits.
Education and self-improvement are also issues at the heart of Juneteenth celebrations, meaning that communities will often bring in guest speakers or elders to recount significant events of the past.
Food is another essential aspect of Juneteenth. Treats like strawberry soda have become synonymous with Juneteenth festivities. Barbecue is perhaps even more important; Juneteenth participants would center celebrations around their barbecue pits, sharing in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors might have experienced.
Dress also makes Juneteenth celebrations special, and is often still taken very seriously by some participants. During the time of slavery, enslaved people were prohibited by law to wear certain kinds of clothing. When the first emancipation celebrations began, many former slaves rid themselves of their old, tattered clothes in favor of clothes taken from plantations, belonging to their former “masters,” as a sign of freedom.
Why We Celebrate
As peaceful protests and social movements still continue across the United States in response to police brutality and the unjust murders of Black people, it’s important to recognize the historical significance of this holiday. Even after the 13th Amendment was passed, Black people have continued to face unbelievable obstacles and injustice in our nation. While Juneteenth celebrates a historic day of a movement towards equality, it’s essential that we understand that the fight is not over. We must continue to fight against injustice and support Black people and Black communities.
If you would like, you can sign this petition to make Juneteenth a national holiday.