Juneteenth is one of the longest running African-American celebrations commemorating the freedom of slaves. It is celebrated across the country today, but it is always more intensely celebrated in the southern states. It is a festival of freedom, food, activities, and self-development.
THE DAWN OF JUNETEENTH
It is June 19th in 1865 and just another normal, hot summer day for enslaved natives in Galveston, Texas. The American Civil War had just ended a couple of years earlier, leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but not enough Union troops were in Texas to enforce the new order that gave former slaves their freedom, thereby delaying their knowledge of the Proclamation.
On this historical day in June, General Gordon Granger addressed the people of Texas by reading to them The General Order Number 3. This order basically stated that all slaves are free and share equal rights with their former slaveowners. After such an assertion was spoken, a wave of shock was followed by a heavy dawning of rejoicing and celebration. Thus, the celebration of Juneteenth was emerged!
Juneteenth began in Texas and remained popular there for a few decades. Back when the celebration remained only in Texas, the celebrants who lived out of state would make an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on the celebrated date of June 19th.
HOW IT WAS CELEBRATED
Juneteenth was always a day filled with enjoyment, activities, spirituality, enlightening history, creating community, and making connections. During a typical Juneteenth gathering, people engage in activities such as rodeos, fishing, baseball, and barbequing. Barbequing was a huge staple of the Juneteenth celebration because the aroma of the burning charcoal and grilling food helped the celebrants feel spiritually close with their ancestors who celebrated the holiday years or decades before them.
Education, prayer, and self-improvement were also the main elements of Juneteenth. Guest speakers and elders would be featured to tell stories of the lives of their ancestors, as well as dramatic historical readings. People would enjoy foods such as beef, pork, and lamb and everyone came with a dish, so food was abundant at this gathering. Today, some states even serve Marcus Garvey salad with beans, and strawberry soda is still a popular menu choice!
For a few decades, Juneteenth faded as a cultural celebration. The reason was all around: the era of segregation. Some stated that, at the time, it was hard to celebrate freedom in the face of oppression when they still felt enslaved by the system. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement when Juneteenth came back into emergence. The Poor People’s march is what sparked it. Reverend Ralph Abernathy called people of all races, creeds, socioeconomic levels, and professions to coalesce together and march in Washington D.C. to show support for the poor. This march was intentionally on June 19th(Martin Luther King, Jr.’s idea) as symbolic action to bring back the celebration of Juneteenth!
WHY IS IT STILL CELEBRATED NOW?
African Americans are becoming more enlightened by the raw history not found in standard textbooks. We are living in a climate where such freedom is to be celebrated, especially as history repeats itself. The Juneteenth celebration is even more popular now than ever with the Smithsonian and The Henry Ford museum sponsoring Juneteenth-centered celebrations and activities. Today, local and national organizations carry on the mission to promote the knowledge and appreciation of black history and culture for as long as we possibly can.
Although Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth as a state holiday, it was not regarded as a federal independence holiday as the Fourth of July was. Even today, it is still not recognized as a federal holiday, although former president Barak Obama attempted to support legislation to have Juneteenth as a national holiday. But that does not keep blacks, or any other supporting race, from enjoying the annual celebration.
Whether Juneteenth remains a penciled-in holiday, or whether it finally makes its presence on the calendar, the celebration will always be permanent in the spirit of our nation.
Today, we celebrate black achievement, freedom, and self-development. Juneteenth is a celebration that promotes love and respect for all cultures, values friendship and understanding. Happy Juneteenth!