What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day is an unofficial holiday celebrated annually on June 19th in Texas, and around the country. On this day in 1865, Union General Gordon Granger read a federal order in Galveston, Texas, proclaiming that all previously enslaved people in Texas were now free. The Civil War ended when General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, opening the door for slaves to be freed around the country.
So why did it take so long for news to reach Texas even after General Robert E Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865?
Texas, which at the time was more isolated geographically than any other southern state, was home to migrants who left the eastern states to escape the fighting of the Civil War and brought enslaved people with them. Presence of Union Troops was low within the state, and the western Army of the Trans-Mississippi refused to surrender until June 2, 1865. The refusal of Confederate troops to surrender further delayed the freeing of those enslaved in Texas.
But what about the Emancipation Proclamation?
In 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation delivered by then President Lincoln “freed” those who were enslaved in the Confederate south. I use the term freed loosely because slaves in the south were not officially freed until the passage of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.
The first celebrations of Juneteenth date back to 1866, and originated in Texas churches. Early celebrations which were originally called Jubilee Day, were used as political rallies to give voting instructions to newly freed slaves. Many cities attempted to bar Black people from using public parks because of state-sponsored segregation of facilities. Eventually Black people across the state of Texas pooled their money together to purchase land in order to hold celebrations. This land eventually became known in Houston as Emancipation Park. Jubilee Day eventually became known as Juneteenth by the 1890s, and in 1898 an estimated 30,000 people gathered to celebrate Juneteenth. Eventually the celebrations spread throughout the south, and by the 1920s the celebrations had become commercialized and evolved into grand celebrations centered around food and music. Celebrations declined throughout the 20th Century as racially segregated laws were enforced throughout Texas, and much of the South. Following wins for the Black community during the Civil Rights Era, the 1970s brought back large scale celebrations of Juneteenth throughout the state of Texas. On January 1, 1980 Texas made Juneteenth an official state holiday, and denoted it a partial staffing holiday in Texas. This means that government offices do not close for the holiday, however, they often operate with reduced staff on the day of Juneteenth. Although the holiday is widely unknown outside of the Black community, there has been a great push throughout recent years and especially under the current climate to recognize Juneteenth as a National Holiday. Many companies around the country are choosing to celebrate Juneteenth today, by closing their offices and giving their employees the day off.
How can you celebrate Juneteenth?
Many cities around the country typically hold Juneteenth celebrations to commemorate the holiday. With Covid-19 majority of those celebrations have been cancelled due to social distancing guidelines set in place by the CDC. Many families may hold small gatherings within their household to celebrate Juneteenth, instead. As an ally, one of the ways you can partake in the yearly celebrations of Juneteenth is by educating yourself about the plight that was once faced and is still faced by the Black community. Consider reading books, attending lectures, or watch documentaries that highlight the Black experience. The Listen, Learn, Teach approach that I shared a few weeks ago in my blog post is also a wonderful tool to use to continue to help amplify the Black voice.
Here are a few of my favorite books that are excellent resources for allies to use to further amplify the Black voice:
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendo
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
Please note that the words above are mine and mine alone. If you would like to share what I have written, I ask that you reach out to me first before doing so.
- Chelsea Nicole, The Mod Little Melanin
The Mod Little Melanin
The Mod Little Melanin
A Fashion Blog by Chelsea Nicole.