What Is Juneteenth?
Celebrated since the late 1800s, Juneteenth (June 19th) remains the oldest national commemoration in regards to the end of Slavery; it marks the anniversary of when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news the Civil War had ended and all enslaved people in the U.S. were now free. (Nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which became official on January 1, 1863.)
Why June 19?
To give context, Robert E. Lee was the commander of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. After Lee’s surrender in April of 1865, General Gordon Granger, a U.S Army Officer of the Union, was best distinguished and remembered for his arrival in Texas on June 19, 1865 to deliver the proclamation that all slaves were free. The war’s purpose changed after the Emancipation Proclamation, pushing the meaning away from preserving the Union and towards freeing the slaves.
Why is it so important?
In the 1900s, several factors contributed to the decline of Juneteenth activities along with the education system deemphasizing the importance of teaching about slavery. Furthermore, the Depression’s onset and establishment of July 4th pushed people even further away from understanding the importance behind the abolition of slavery.
The Civil Rights movement prompted a resurgence, with African American youth linking their struggle to history, evident in the Atlanta Civil Rights campaign when Juneteenth freedom buttons were worn. Furthermore, in 1968 the Poor People’s March attendees returned home in locales and initiated the official establishment of Juneteenth festivities and celebrations.
So where are we now?
In 1980, Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday. Since 1980, forty-five states have recognized Juneteenth. In Washington, Juneteenth will become a statewide holiday in 2022, and Illinois will make Juneteenth one paid holiday for all state employees and school holidays.
In the previous year, businesses from the NFL, Best Buy, Nike, and Target made it a company holiday. However, even with extensive backing, Juneteenth has yet to become a national holiday.
What has changed?
The people have been looking for change since before the Civil Rights Movement in 1954. Following George Floyd’s death, there was a large uproar where thousands of people protested for Black lives in the United States. Accompanying George Floyd, and many others, rallying cries for change got loud, reenergizing the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Coming in waves, Minneapolis banned chokeholds and strangleholds by law enforcement, and officers must intervene and report any unauthorized force. Democrats in Congress passed a bill with sweeping legislation focusing on misconduct and racial discrimination in policing becoming one of the most extensive interventions in policing lawmakers proposed to date. Companies across businesses voiced support by suspending and firing employees who mocked and made racist remarks. But, there is still more to be done.
What can be done to facilitate change?
In New York City, there are multiple ways to honor Juneteenth and celebrate the holiday:
- The first annual Juneteenth March at City Hall, on Friday, June 19, at 2 PM, demanding several police reforms.
- In Brooklyn, the Weeksville Heritage Center, is dedicated to preserving the history of one of the largest free Black communities. They are hosting events the entire weekend in celebration of Juneteenth, focusing on Black foodways.
- Moreover, in the Brooklyn Public library, a concert from the activist orchestra “The Dream Unfinished” will stream in celebration of Juneteenth.
- Lastly, New York announced it will push forth with its annual Juneteenth 3-day summit. This is where nearly 20,000 people attended virtually in 2020. The summit will feature talent show performers, educational activities, a parade, and a health and wellness screening center.
Juneteenth remains extremely important and prevalent in our community, and our solidarity should continue.